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[Published on Yourstory.com]
India’s enterprise software industry has been slowly bubbling since the 1980s but has generally failed to deliver a large number of high impact, high value companies. We do have some companies that everybody talks about – iFlex, Tally, Zoho – but these are far and few between. I believe that we are seeing a new scalable wave of enterprise software companies coming out of India and there is a potential to deliver several high impact companies over the next decade. Here at Lightspeed Venture Partners, leveraging our global strength in enterprise technologies, we see opportunities to partner with companies that are cloud-native and have cracked a global market – examples of current active categories in India are CRM, analytics/big data, marketing automation and infrastructure.
India’s enterprise software industry has to be looked at separately from the outsourcing/BPO firms like Genpact, Cognizant, Tata Consulting Services and Infosys. Starting in the 1980s and early 1990s, this services industry is now mature and at scale.
Separate from the outsourcing/BPO industry, India’s enterprise software industry (or “products” as it is called by many here in India) has evolved from the 1980s to now in what I think can be divided into four waves, coinciding somewhat with three trends: 1) enterprise software moving from desktop to client-server to cloud; 2) evolution of Indian industry post 1991 liberalization; and 3) increased experience of Indians at successful US product companies.
The first wave of software products came along in the late 1980s/early 1990s – the focus was desktop products for business accounting. Companies in this wave include Tally Solutions (still the undisputed leader in SME accounting software in India), Instaplan, Muneemji and Easy Accounting.
This generation of software products emerged in the 1990s as projects within outsourcing firms or from internal services arms of larger corporates. Infosys launched Finacle. Ramco Systems launched its ERP. And Citibank launched CITIL which became i-Flex. Other notable companies included 3i Infotech, Cranes Software, Kale Consultants, Newgen Software, Polaris Financial Technologies, Srishti Software and Subex.
I remember attending CEBIT in Hanover in 1989 when many of these Indian software and consulting companies were first introduced to Europe.
Did you know? Year 1989, the first time CeBIT introduced the concept of a partner country. Our first partner? India! pic.twitter.com/9sWx68Yzmp
— CeBIT India (@cebitindia) February 13, 2014
The late 1990s saw a wavelet of ASP (application service provider) startups in India, most of which got crushed after the dotcom bust.
The 2000s saw on-premise India-first companies such as Drishti-Soft, Eka Software, Employwise, iCreate Software, iViz, Manthan Systems, Quick Heal Technologies, Talisma (for which I did some initial product management work while at Aditi Technologies) and Zycus get started. This was the era of 8-10% GDP growth in India which lasted till about 2010. Many of these companies had a direct sales model. After India, they generally expanded into the global South (Africa, Middle East, SE Asia, Latin America) where they found similar customer requirements and little competition from Western software companies. Bootstrapped in their earlier years, some of these companies grew over several years and have broken through to $25 million+ in annual revenue. Key verticals have traditionally been BFSI (banking, financial services and insurance), telecom, retail/FMCG (fast-moving consumer goods aka CPG in the US) and outsourcing/BPO.
Having been around for over a decade, some of these companies generally face the challenge of migrating to the cloud, upgrading user experience to modern Web 2.0 levels, and expanding addressable markets beyond the global South to the US and Europe. We have seen some of these companies get venture funded, typically at much later stages in their go-to-market relative to US-based software companies. Several of these companies have received funding in the past couple of years, ostensibly to “go international” and “go cloud,” not an easy task, especially when done together.
Starting in around 2010, a new wave of cloud-native companies were launched, perhaps following the slowdown in India’s economy and the growth/acceptance of SaaS as a delivery model and as a sales model in the US. These companies have grown and now could power beyond the $10M/year revenue glass ceiling. The reason for the scale potential being higher for this cloud-native wave is the cracking of efficient online sales channels to reach markets globally.
Why this decade? Because there is an increased willingness of companies around the world to search for and buy software products online. There is now a large pool of founders who have worked at global enterprise product companies (e.g. Indian offshore development centers or in Silicon Valley itself with companies like SAP, Oracle, Google, Microsoft, Adobe) and have experience in product management, marketing and sales. And finally, there has been a dramatic reduction in the capital required to bootstrap enterprise software companies. Everybody uses AWS and software from other startups to get started. It’s quite meta.
Wave 4 companies have the opportunity to break through the barriers that previously relegated Indian enterprise software companies to selling to the global South. We have seen Atlassian (Australia), Zendesk (Denmark) and Outbrain (Israel) do this move to Western or global markets. Zoho is an Indian company that is rumored to be at $100 million per year revenue scale – they have been part of many of the waves I have described.
This cloud-native wave, I believe, can be divided into two dimensions. One dimension is the platform/tools companies versus workflow automation (applications) companies. The other dimension is India-first companies versus the global-first companies. We see opportunities in all four quadrants, each having its own challenges. We are interested in looking at companies in all these segments, with a bias toward companies which have reached some scale ($1M ARR) and are going after large addressable markets with aggressive sales & marketing execution.
|Applications||Markets: Enterprise (retail, banking, telecom, BPO, ecommerce)
Examples: Capillary, Peel Works, Wooqer, Sapience
Categories: Employee productivity, verticalized
Examples: Framebench, Freshdesk, Kayako, MindTickle, Unmetric, Zoho
Categories: Mature SaaS segments eg CRM, SMM, horizontal
|Platforms/ Tools||Markets: IT dept, developers, SMB, media
Examples: Exotel, Knowlarity, Germinait
Categories: Telecom infra, app dev tools
|Markets: IT dept, developers
Examples: Browserstack, FusionCharts, Little Eye, Mobstac, Webengage, Wingify
Categories: app dev tools, marketing automation, security
|Model: License+AMC, direct sales, resellers||Subscription, telesales, online sales (SEO/SEM,content mktg)|
[Please note this is not a comprehensive list of companies nor a view on which companies we admire or not]
Global-first companies coming out of India have started to crack or have cracked the online sales model, using SEO, SEM, content marketing and telesales. They are typically going after mature segments where buyers are typing keywords into Google at a high rate. This online selling model results in an SMB and mid-market customer base. In many cases, founders may have to move to the US to pursue direct enterprise sales. It’s worth noting that scale markets are not necessarily all in the US – companies could get built with a general global diffusion of customers, perhaps with help from resellers.
I see India-first companies typically going after newer high-growth companies in India (e.g. ecommerce, retail) and startups. Some go after Indian arms of multinationals (MNCs). This is a reasonable early adopter market to cut a product’s teeth on, but has limited ability to scale. Of the newer crop of India-first companies, very few go after large enterprises in India – there are exceptions like Peelworks and Wooqer. The model here generally is SaaS as a delivery model but not SaaS as a sales model (ie direct sales, not self-service). Many software companies are essentially verticalized.
We continue to see a few high-ticket, high touch direct sales enterprise software companies which are global-first, including companies like Cloudbyte, Druva, Indix, Sirion Labs and Vaultize. Many of these start out with teams in both Silicon Valley and India or transplant themselves to the Valley over time. I think this will continue to happen but we will not see the explosion here that we are seeing in the number of companies utilizing low touch online sales models. I see several high-impact companies coming out of these direct sales enterprise software startups as well.
I think this dichotomy between India-first and global-first companies is interesting and makes India a distinctly different type of investment geography, different from Israel (which has very small domestic market where tech companies move to the US very quickly), different from China (which mostly has domestic market focused startups and very little enterprise software) and different from the US (which is primarily domestic-focused in $500B enterprise tech industry in the early years of most startups). In terms of investor and founder interest, the pendulum may also swing back and forth between these two models as the Indian economy grows, sometimes at high speed, sometimes at a snails pace.
[With input from the team at iSPIRT and several of the companies mentioned above].
I am looking forward to attending iSpirt’s Intech50 event next week in Bangalore. Fifty Indian enterprise technology companies will be there, meeting with fifty CIOs from the US and India. Congrats to everybody at iSpirt, including Sharad Sharma and Avinash Raghava, for organizing what promises to be a productive spot-market.
We have put the names of the Intech50 companies into a list and categorized by tech category (applications, infrastructure, tools), vertical (e.g. none, financial services, retail) and geographic focus (India, India->Emerging Markets, India->Global, Global). See the Slideshare embed below to view or download the document. Perhaps this is of help to you while navigating the Intech50 event.
These companies are two-thirds infrastructure, one-third applications. Analytics and security dominate the categories, followed by HR and CRM. A good 75% are horizontal solutions while the rest are verticalized. And more than half have a global go-to-market while about 40% are focused on India or adjacent markets.
The last decade, especially the past five years, has seen a lot of change for the better in the enterprise tech startup market in India. Startups have started building world-class product and user experiences. They have understood how to leverage online marketing to acquire customers outside India, versus relying on channel partners in other countries or sticking to just the India market. They have figured out how to initiate direct sales abroad, not relying on hiring expensive VPs of Sales as a first step but sending founders abroad to kickstart sales. They have started efficiently selling into the long-tail of companies rather than just focusing on large enterprises. And they have taken full advantage of platforms such as AWS, Force.com, etc. to run and distribute their products.
I think there is a clear progression forward from the types of enterprise software companies started 7-15 years ago which many times started with services projects; were usually vertically focused on banking, telecom or retail; and, despite branching out to SE Asia, Middle East and Africa, have generally tapped out growth at the sub-$10M annual revenue mark. There were exceptions of course, including companies like I-flex, Subex and Ramco.
Lightspeed globally has put a majority of its capital to work in enterprise technology companies, represented here. Many of our portfolio companies, including Qubole, Numerify and Bloomreach, have teams in India. In India, we are looking for enterprise technology companies that can be category-defining and category-leading and can scale to $50-100M in revenue over time. We are finding higher than average growth coming from applications companies focused on a global or US go-to-market – examples in India would be Freshdesk and Unmetric. We are also seeing such growth from globally-focused infrastructure and developer enabling technologies – examples in India would be Druva, WebEngage and HelpShift.
See you at Intech50! Come talk to us. You can reach me at dkhare at lsvp dot com.
India is seeing an explosion of smartphones’ installed base (chart below). This is leading to a burst in data consumption – Airtel’s mobile data consumption doubled in Q3, FY14 vs. Q3, FY13 and data revenue has become a quarter of the company’s total revenue. We are starting to get onto the early part of the S-curve in terms of mobile-data growth.
Cumulative base of smartphones in India
(Source: Gartner, Industry)
Online transactions businesses like OTAs (MMT, Cleartrip, Yatra) are nearing 40% of their users on mobile and ecommerce companies (Flipkart, Snapdeal) are seeing 20-30% transactions from mobile. This trend will continue as smartphones will have deeper penetration than computers in India and for many people a smartphone will be their first and only connected device. Also being a personal device, a smartphone is more accessible than a computer even for users who have both.
This smartphone base will lead to creation of opportunities across sectors and an interesting one is in local businesses. Globally, Lightspeed has invested in companies like Sidecar (transportation), Grubhub (food), Styleseat (beauty stylist) which are betting on transferring demand generated online to local services fulfilled offline. We believe this trend will be led by mobile (smartphones) in India.
The current leader in connecting demand online to service providers offline in India is JustDial – mobile data traffic on JustDial is now more than 22% of total traffic, up from 12% in FY13 and 5% in FY12, and this will likely inflect more sharply with increasing smartphone penetration. Since JustDial is a horizontal and doesn’t provide a category specific experience it may be hard for JustDial to do more than generate leads for local businesses. JustDial is valued at around $1.8B and that points to an opportunity for vertical specific platforms that can provide a better value proposition to consumers and local businesses by leveraging smartphones.
The smartphone as a medium has the potential to provide a disruptive value proposition by taking an interested lead a few steps further and converting it into an informed and highly qualified potential customer (or even a transaction). Given access to rich content, fine location and direct calling at the moment of consumer need, a smartphone is uniquely positioned to provide a category specific experience that is not possible on a phone (non-smartphone) or a computer. We are already seeing this happen in verticals like transportation (Ola, Uber, TaxiForSure) and food (Zomato). More verticals where there is an unmet consumer need and an opportunity to leverage smartphone capabilities are healthcare, break-fix and education/vocation.
Entrepreneurs in this space need to keep the following elements in mind:
- Design the business to be mobile-first: Have a responsive mobile design or an app. The good news is that 90% of new smartphone sales in India are presently Android (unlikely to change anytime soon), so a majority of the market can be covered by focusing on Android.
- Create a consumer experience specialized for the category: Take users as close as possible to the offline transaction. For example, the difference between looking for a restaurant on Zomato vs JustDial is substantial. Another great experience is to see an Uber cab move towards oneself once one books it in their app.
- Create consumer side entry barriers: Once the platform has early traction, elements like an active community, crowd sourced reviews/information can help retain leadership. Pagalguy and Team-bhp are two strong Indian communities and have grown despite popular belief that Indians do not like to contribute user-generated content online.
- Provide incremental revenue opportunity to merchants: Local businesses in India are most excited to embrace technology if it helps acquire new customers (they are much slower in adopting technology to boost productivity). Instrument RoI measurement early on and make it a core part of the merchant pitch. For example, Zomato had very early on embraced cloud telephony to track calls generated from their website or mobile apps to show impact to their merchants; this continues to be a core part of their merchant offering.
- Have a mobile offering on the merchant side: It is very interesting to see how savvy even small merchants are about using apps like Whatsapp. Most merchants have (or will have) smartphones and are comfortable using them. Give them a mobile console to connect with your platform. For example, a lead management app for a real estate broker could be a great way to not only increase his productivity but also to get him to share his data with the platform. Unlike merchant interfaces in the West which are computer-centric, merchant interfaces in India need to be mobile-centric. Nowfloats is doing this.
- Entrench deeply inside merchants through technology: If businesses in the category are already using technology for their processes, then find a way to connect into their technology. This could be a massive differentiator on both consumer experience as well as the entry barrier. For example, one could plug into the CRM of a dentist, restaurant, play-school, builder, car-dealer etc. Bookmyshow is a great example of how plugging into the multiplexes helped create a great consumer and merchant experience.
- Managing salesforce/productivity: If the monthly cost of non-founder sales team after initial training is 50% of the monthly revenue collected by them, it shows the inherent quality of the business. For example, Infoedge’s and JustDial’s people cost are ~35% and ~50% of their respective revenues (Source: respective public filings). For Infoedge and Justdial, people costs include corporate, technology and other staff so the ratio of salesforce cost to revenue is likely to be meaningfully lower. If this equation is working, then the next challenge is to recruit, train and retain at scale – most such businesses would need thousands of feet-on-street to reach scale (JustDial’s salesforce is around 4000 and Infoedge’s is more than 2000). There are interesting ways to juice salesforce productivity E.g. Justdial equips it’s salesforce with devices to enhance and track productivity and qualifies a sale over the phone before sending an feet-on-street agent.
A key challenge for businesses in this space is around the point above on balancing the cost of monetization vs. the revenue collected. While it is partially solvable through being a market leading brand for that category, strong execution and using some of the concepts outlined above, but a big part of this balance is also anchored in the category itself. It is important to be in a category where the customers are more valuable (because of ticket sizes, category margins, frequency of purchase, etc), in order to achieve this balance.
We would love to hear your thoughts around other ways in which the growing smartphone base can disrupt (or not?) demand generation for local businesses.
Here’s Ashish Thusoo, CEO & founder of big-data-as-a-service company Qubole, speaking with GigaOm:
Mr Venkat R Chary, IAS (Retd), Chairman of Lightspeed-backed Indian Energy Exchange Ltd delivered a speech at the CII Southern Regional Power Conference in December 2012. Here’s the video!