India is known as the land of outsourcing, so, when I landed here in 2005 to start a software company I was inundated with service and outsourcing companies all around me – pretty much providing the same web design and development services and fighting to retain employees. This is something I didn’t want to be a part of. In fact, seeing the dependency on people and the consequent issues that it creates, made me want to have a company that was system-driven, that had the right processes in place to make it a dynamic, scalable, light and transparent organisation, while providing value to others.I turned to what I believe is the future of computing: Software as a Service (SaaS). Now, I often look back and try to re-learn from my experiences….
1. The comfort zone is not quite so comforting
I didn’t want to be in a ‘safe’ technology business. Providing low-cost services didn’t appeal to me much, though you can make a ton of money doing that. How do you do the things that challenge you everyday? How do you build something sustainable? Sometimes, you just need to break out of the pack and do what you have to do and at least give it a shot.
Reminds me of Eminem in the movie “8 Mile” when he tells his friends that “I just got to do my own thing.” Shake things up a bit. Don’t follow the herd.
2. The long-distance runner will take you places
Hiring was and is a beast. Building a product requires a completely different mindset and a way of thinking. We wanted programmers who could think about scalability and user experience first, and then about the technicalities. Since almost all programmers were veterans of the service era, I just kept looking. Never settle for less than you want unless you have a hunch that this guy will be a long-term player and can be trained up quickly. Look for the right attitude – sometimes even before the right skill set!
3. Fishing with the ‘law of the farm’
I spoke to a lot of people in 2005 and 2006. In those conversations, there was a common thread – one of “short term gain.” If we put in money, when can we cash out? Before you hire me can you give me a chart of my salary raises? Can you tell me if there will be a bonus at the end of the year? Will we sell the company soon?
I got the feeling that people didn’t want to obey the “law of the farm.” India was quickly adapting to a consumerist way of life, salaries were sky high due to the BPO/ outsourcing rush and the stock markets were booming: people were ready to cash out before they even started out
Ignore the madness, the herd, and stay true to your path.
4. Sing a song to an audience that wants to listen
Initially, we thought DeskAway could have “captured” India’s large domestic market of small business owners. We were dead wrong. Domestic users out here are slow to adopt new technology (though, this is changing now).
DeskAway is self-service and for $100 a month we just didn’t have the bandwidth to go in for multiple presentations, employee training and negotiating to close a sale. After four months we shifted gears and realised that it was easier to build a brand online – our customers were online and this is where we had to go.
5. Society often calls for a deaf ear
Society in India can be overwhelming and risk averse. They can collectively tender advice on anything – regardless of knowledge or experience in the field. Even if you give them a chance to have their day, go with what you think is right – assuming you have done the right research to get to this point. They told me that no one would use our product because it was online. That SaaS was risky. That building a product took time and who has time today? It’s important to follow your gut instinct even if it takes longer than expected, and you are surrounded by detractors.
Good things take time, patience and perseverance.
Sahil Parikh is the founder of Deskaway.