Chapter 1 - IT Services to SaaS
“We were closer to madness than our goals”
This is the story of Anirudh, Dinesh & Me (Abhishek) - co-founders of Videoform. Three friends who started up and became co-founders - and successfully ran a marketing services company for 2 years with many highs and lows. Over time, we grew tired and bored of running a services business.
One fine day, we decided to build a SaaS product.
The next week - we made a plan
The next month - we started coding
The next quarter - we wanted to release the product.
Five quarters came and went and we rewrote our code twice. We were coding for 15 months straight & I didn't even have a wireframe to show.
We were probably closer to going mad than reaching our goals.
Another quarter went by and we had no direction nor a date of release. Too many black coffees went down. Frustrated, we confided in friends - who were also fellow founders - and vented our collective frustrations over alcohol. We even came up with a name for our group. The F2 Group - the Frustrated Founders Group.
Eighteen months and no clear direction meant only one thing - I had to take matters into my own hands. I started learning coding and gave up in all but 7 days.
Luckily, a friend was visiting Hyderabad and came down to our office. With his strong technical background, he was a natural prey and I asked him to review our code with Anirudh. IITians being IITians, he brought his friend along, too. They went through the code patiently for hours, intermittently asking questions while I sipped my coffee, anxiously waiting for the results.
Doubts ran wild through my head: "Was our code crap? Did we have a half decent chance if we tried 2 more quarters?"
The result was out and it was good. All we needed to do was iron out a few pieces. This gave Anirudh & the tech team a new shot of self-confidence.
Buoyed by this serendipity, I encouraged Anirudh to attend small and large tech meet-ups in our city. One of these was an AWS meet-up that translated into an invite to their office. They literally did a full architectural review of our product, understood our goals & suggested changes - I was simply blown away.
Chapter 2 - Joining Upekkha
Lead-up to the GreyMetrics Acquisition
A few months later, with much fanfare, we launched GreyMetrics - a SaaS reporting solution for marketing agencies. We started off by offering a lifetime deal on Pitchground, a SaaS marketplace. Pitchground has an amazing community of entrepreneurs, marketers & agencies.
This was my first introduction to the sheer power of a community. PG had built a community on trust and collaboration. We were getting feedback, bugs, improvement requests and we were getting on calls, understanding the needs of our customers deeply. I was getting better clarity on how we needed to move forward by being a part of this community. We had 250+ customers to speak to.
While our launch was in full swing, we got into Upekkha, the famed SaaS accelerator (the site that you’re on).
Anirudh, Dinesh and I flew down to Bengaluru to meet our cohort for the first time. It was probably one of the most important weeks of my life. Not only did we have great craft beer, we also learnt the basics of building a successful SaaS company.
Everything was great and we were all excited to catch up with each other in 4 weeks.
Enter Covid. I will come back to this later...
Our Tech was facing newer problems & needed help again. (This never ends...) This time, Anirudh posted his questions on Upekkha’s Slack group & voila - the answers, discussions & suggestions followed - from folks who had been there and done that. Anirudh kept asking questions & the answers kept coming.
Chapter 3 - COVID
As we wavered, Community pitched in with funds
Coming back to Covid….
An emergency Upekkha Community founders meeting was called for by Upekkha partners Prasanna and Rajan. The point they made was this - the business landscape was about to change drastically and all of us needed to adapt quickly.
This meant an audit and cutting down on every unnecessary expense. We were advised to be frugal and get more creative with optimizing the resources we had in hand. We had group sessions with fellow founders in the Community and discussed sharing resources, prioritizing cost-cutting, etc. It wasn't very easy to ask or listen to such questions but times were tough and we had to adapt.
Naturally, many startups, including ours, started struggling in terms of revenue gen.
Something I’ve never anticipated happened. Upekkha’s older cohorts - read more mature & higher revenue generating startups - offered to loan money to newer startups they barely knew and who would otherwise struggle to survive during these unprecedented times. Mind you, this help was almost unconditional. And above all, the startups offering help were cutting short their own runways by doing this.
So what’s the catch? What was in it for the startups that were helping?
Answer - Zilch.
I realized that they cared deeply about keeping the Community alive and running. They believed & still believe that collectively the tribe would get stronger as a community if we helped each other. DAMN !!!!
What happened was just crazy!!! I just couldn’t believe what had happened over a group Zoom call in 30 minutes. Maybe this is what trust is all about.
My friends who have a hard time loaning me $100 for miscellaneous expenses, please read this (payment link coming soon) :P. Over the next few weeks, Girish Mathrubootham, Founder & CEO of Freshworks mentioned how the Upekkha Community founders had helped each other in these tough times in one of his speeches & the press covered it extensively.
Chapter 4 - An absurdly brilliant idea!
“Speak to CEOs of competitors”
While I was still in awe, our finances were taking a beating & things weren’t looking good for us. We, unwittingly, did not ask for help and the music was just about beginning for us.
Upekkha suggested that we speak to the CEO’s of our competitors to get a better perspective of the market we are in (what an absurdly brilliant idea).
This nudge helped us speak to a CEO who had just exited a similar business. We had common friends and we could speak openly about our challenges and got his perspective of the market.
We quickly realized that some of the assumptions we had about the market were wrong. We were in a crowded market & understood that our product would struggle because of the plethora of options & the money needed to differentiate.
We needed a new plan.
Chapter 5: GreyMetrics is acquired
How Upekkha Community catalysed the acquisition
We started building a new product (Videoform) but were desperate to exit GreyMetrics & extend our runway. We decided to sell quickly. I spoke to the founders that I knew were targeting the same market segment. I reached out to founders in the same space on Linkedin and asked them to have a look at acquiring our product. Things didn't pan out as expected. Reached out to a few marketplaces to list our product & got rejected.
Few told us that code is a piece of junk and we would be offered close to nothing if we did not have a large MRR (which we did not).
We almost accepted that we wouldn’t get a good price or any price & started making plans to raise money from friends. But remember the Upekkha community - we reached out for help this time.
Dinesh reached out to Upekkha community member and SocialPilot founder Tejas. Tejas gave us the confidence that our product had demand in places most wouldn't expect. He introduced us to Andrew Gazdecki, Co-founder of MicroAcquire (a not so well-known startup at the time that claimed it wouldn’t take any commissions on successful sale) - SWEET!!!
Reluctantly, we listed our startup and in 3 days, we were bombarded with interest. This is when I encountered legalese (LOI, APA, etc) I had never heard of before. Upekkha Partner Shekar helped me sift through it and guided me on what and what not to do before signing.
In an interesting turn of events, we were also offered an acquihire and the opportunity to start India ops for a well-respected global company in the same space.
I reached out to Upekkha Partner Rajan for help. He helped me think through and helped me get a new perspective on acquisitions. In the end, we went with a different buyer & received the first tranche of money in 3 weeks after listing (Thanks MicroAcquire).
Chapter next - On course to building Videoform with strategic Community inputs
We wanted to start off again with a Lifetime deal (LTD) but this time we spoke to Prasanna before we decided. The framework he shared helped us decide against an LTD, as we did not have a lot of pieces together.
If I had to sum up what difference a supportive community made in my life as a founder, this is how I would put it.
- I have a question, I post
- I have a problem, I schedule a call
- I have a marketing questions, I bounce off ideas
We built, learnt & continue to learn off of the community. The Upekkha Community helped us in a lot of ways:
- Right advice
- Making decisions faster
- Think laterally
- Right Connects
- Always available at my fingertips
Word of Caution: What I learnt a community CANNOT do
It can’t send referrals and leads your way just by being a part of it. You build trust by giving back, cultivate relationships & ask specific questions to get the help you need.
My co-founders & I often talk about how glad we are to join Upekkha. I realized what kind of founder (rather person) I want to be irrespective of whether we succeed in our startup or not. At the risk of sounding like a fanboy, this is one hell of a community to be part of!