About:

Launched in 2017, GaragePlug is an automotive workshop and garage management software that delivers end-to-end, enterprise-grade digitized service to 5,000+ users across 15 countries.

Chapters:

Note: This blog is a reproduction from a chat with GaragePlug founders Shubhra Srivastava and Rohit Bhatnagar in Feb, 2022. GaragePlug is an Upekkha alumnus - batch of 2019.

Get, set, traction: Solving a real need

Launched in 2017, GaragePlug created an instant wave in the Indian SMB market. Not only was the product innovative, it solved a real problem for workshops and garages. The founders were met with an enormous demand for the product and high downloads within a month of its launch. Despite zero effort put into SEO or marketing, customers started finding GaragePlug through search.

The product was customized and designed just right for its intended customer - garages. “Once we got initial traction, we became super busy acquiring customers. Within a short span of time, we acquired hundreds of customers from the Indian market. Ease of use made the product well-loved,” says Shubhra.

Growth limits & leap for global

Once the product became a hit in the Indian market, the founders were ready for newer terrains and scale. Time was ripe to move up from being a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) with a low-ticket size.

GaragePlug was delivering great value to customers and despite being faced with competitors who were underpricing their product, GaragePlug saw good demand as they were considered premium. “People started laughing at us saying ‘you have such a great product, great concept, why are you selling in India, and not going global?’,” Shubhra recalls.  

This coincided with GaragePlug joining Upekkha’s 2019 batch. There, it became clear to the founders that enterprise is where higher value is. “The enterprise potential, which was not apparent initially, suddenly became more visible,” says Shubhra.

As first steps, the three founders iterated strategy with learnings from their complementary backgrounds. They decided to build a product for the global market. “We built another version of the product and launched it to the global market. We felt like a startup again. We had no idea about what global means and who was going to buy it,” says Subhra.

The Middle East became the first geography to test the waters. The product was greeted with a similar enthusiasm as in India because the market was starved of a unique product like GaragePlug. The founders received overwhelming inquiries, mostly through word-of-mouth referrals.

Back in the pre-Zoom days, Shubhra remembers giving demos to clients over Skype. Deals were closed over single calls minus any follow ups. “That gave us confidence that this is a market where there could be a big need. However, we knew nothing about this market. So Rohit and I started visiting the Middle East to understand the market better,” says Shubhra.

Going enterprise: A colossal mind-shift

The initial sales were predominantly outbound field sales. After acquiring a couple of customers, the team set up an inbound sales engine. By applying an inbound approach, GaragePlug also started receiving enterprise inquiries. The bigger companies, original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) or bigger dealerships reached out with Request for Proposals (RFPs) and Request for Quotes (RFQs).

Finding the perfect product-market-fit meant customizing the product based on customer conversations. The team put in this extra effort even though there were a couple of customers who reached out after trying the free version.

After numerous customer conversations, the SMB-facing product slowly became enterprise-ready. “Sixty percent of the product was already there and 40%, we had to build to take it to the next level, fit their requirements. We took the step, did this with two customers and we could see their success. It took almost six to eight months to do this whole change of making the product enterprise-ready and then making our customers successful,” says Rohit.

The product became an end-to-end business platform for automotive businesses. It enabled businesses to manage the entire operation while also improving their customer’s experience.

On why they didn’t spot the enterprise opportunity sooner, Rohit says, “Earlier, we were only seeing the first floor not the tenth floor. Today, one of the largest oil and lube OEM players in the auto industry and the car manufacturers are some of our enterprise customers. This move from SMB to an enterprise required a monumental mind shift. It was like going from school to college.”

To go enterprise SaaS, the founders had to consciously move away from a product mindset to a solution mindset. This was a necessary paradigm shift because it entailed solving bigger problems for large enterprises from the perspective of multiple stakeholders.

Two things became crystal clear. First, they had to accept that the product could not be 100% ready, or sold in a hurry. The second was to transform the point of view of the entire organization, structure and even the approach to reach customers.

Undaunted by changing ICP


Without understanding the Ideal Customer Persona (ICP), it is impossible to succeed in a market. Customer persona for a big enterprise is very distinct from that of an SMB. With a market or segment change, the ICP shifts too because depending on who the product is sold to, the value derived from the product changes as well.

Not one, but two big pivots meant an ever-evolving ICP for GaragePlug. This meant that when GaragePlug entered a new segment or a new geography, the ICP exercise had to start afresh.

These ICP iterations helped GaragePlug come out with rich, new learnings. “We understood what should be the minimum Annual Contract Value (ACV) and the product set. We understood that the product set is not a single product, rather it is the set of things that we are going to deliver,” says Rohit.

Presently the GaragePlug ICP is fixed and the product roadmap is aligned towards adding value to those segments. However, when a new ICP demand rises, GaragePlug is open to evolving their ICP.

Aligning positioning & metrics to new ICP


With changing ICP, the overall problem roadmap also changed. The value delivered to customers changed and consequently the messaging too.

Initially while working with single garages the messaging was designed around “managing operations, managing day-to-day activities, everything on mobile.” With the move to the enterprise, messaging became more about “transforming the customer journey, helping an enterprise take the right decisions and how they can manage their entire network of operations.’”

“Along with that, we had to align the right set of analytics for effectively managing information across their network. The overall messaging changed and we managed to ring their bells,” says Rohit.

The sales strategy evolution

Initially, GaragePlug was completely marketing-led. A small advertisement in the Indian market led to a flood of leads. However, that led to a unique problem. “Most of the leads did not qualify as these were small businesses that could not pay as per our expectations. It was a waste of time,” says Shubhra.

When they added a Middle-east focus, they designed marketing to generate quality leads. “We opted for a very hard way of selling. I and Rohit did field sales. Even Ashish (Co-founder, GaragePlug) would join us sometimes and knock on each and every door. Through this outbound sales mechanism, a substantial amount of leads (60-70) were generated. The six months of field sales were more of a learning for us.”

Though this was a departure from the way SaaS companies operate, outbound sales helped get face to face with customers. This refined the understanding of the market, customer pain points and helped gain valuable insights. Subsequently, the inbound sales engine was based on the insights gained from the outbound sales process.

“Customers guided us about the platforms they were present on, like Instagram. We adapted to the platform and got a lot of visibility,” says Rohit.

With enterprise, the founders are more focussed on outbound. Since two of the co-founders, Ashish and Rohit, came from an automotive background, they could leverage on their huge network. Combined with GaragePlug’s focus on driving value to its customers, word-of-mouth and referral leads are happening in a big way.

Overhauling product

The original product went through a complete overhaul to fit the global enterprise market. Enterprise customers needed the product to cater to multiple outlets in different geographies. “At times there were 100s of different outlets running at one go and having the combined analytics,” says Rohit.

From an overall offerings perspective, the product evolved from a workshop management solution to a complete suite that integrates the entire customer journey on a single platform. It had to also address a lot of associated security, privacy and other concerns to become enterprise-ready.

“In every new geography, we had to start with zero and then you go from there. Apart from compliances, they would have their own set of challenges.” says Rohit.

"Now the product is multi-geography compliant in terms of legal compliances, languages and work practices. Getting there needed meticulous effort, says Shubhra. “At the ground level, because of the layers and the best practices we have implemented in the system, 70% of the product remains the same. It is just the 30% where we have to do a little bit here and there. We have designed the entire architecture in a way where it is multilingual. If tomorrow you want to add the Thai language, it is just one day of effort for us.”

Rohit adds, “even now the product is a single code base that is running for everyone. It's a single product running for entire countries. This also helps us make it a more maintainable kind of system.”

Changing perception of pricing

Being a premium product that delivers high value to customers, GaragePlug does not underprice itself anymore. After mistakes and successive learnings, their pricing is now modular, having a base price, and then a top-up price on anything extra added. There is no fixed pricing - there are a few things that are fixed and some that are variables. Factors like subscription, custom layer development or customizations, increased maintenance, and one-time development are all taken into account.

There is always some negotiation around pricing. However, if the network is huge and some kind of tiered pricing is offered, there is no need to compromise on price because people see the value, says Shubhra. “Sales is not easy as there are multiple negation rounds that keep happening. So ultimately, people come back to, ‘I need this only, you do something.’ At that point negotiations are made, some discounts are given for the first year. This can be covered up in the following years.”

Necessary churn for future growth

As ICP and pricing changed, churn was expected as a necessary tradeoff for growth. “We had to churn some of the SMB customers because now the product is evolving more into enterprise direction. We can't take up a lot of requirements that are not suitable for the segment we are targeting. There are customers who are literally not paying anything and we can't support them anymore. Enterprises are adding a majority part to the revenue, as we are going forward, as we are signing the contracts,” Shubhra says.


Takeaways from the journey:

  1. Don’t give anything free, or take a hit:

In the initial phase with SMB customers, everything was offered for free. “With enterprise as well, we were unaware that premium support needs to be charged. We underestimated a lot and ended up doing a lot of things for free just to make our clients successful in the initial stages,” recalls Shubhra.

In hindsight, their one great learning, she says, is never to give things for free, never to take the hit and in turn affect motivation. These are not good for the organization’s health.
  1. Identify a high-value ICP at the outset

Rohit says that rather than spending the whole year learning about a single ICP one after another, they could have done the Wardley map exercise for multiple ICPs earlier on. “Then we would have seen what we were getting out of that. We took these things very lightly.” adds Shubhra.

Wardley map is a tool to figure out a high-value problem.

  1. Delegate with control

Being a successful founder is a perfect dance between control and delegation. Though delegating tasks to others becomes imperative, it can be hard.

Rohit agrees that while scaling founders need to delegate. “Every founder needs to learn, keep control, but still start delegating, start having more people in the team. Having this set of processes really helps you keep control and still expand. Delegating and still, keeping a high-level overview is something that needs to be learned. We are still learning,” says Rohit.

Value SaaS, control & founder optionality

Shubhra saya Value SaaS though simple, is a beautiful concept.

“It's playing a big role where we are seeing growth, moving step by step and now getting into these bigger elephant-sized tickets. It's all a value game only. There are thousands of players; why are we successful? We are definitely doing something different. The biggest differentiator is the Value SaaS way that we have incorporated.”

In terms of ‘staying in control as a founder’ and safeguarding the organization from equity burn, Shubhra says, “we want to be our own boss and do things without limits. That's the main thing, being in control and then doing things. That is what we enjoy right now.”


You may also like:

Transformers: iMocha founder Amit D. Mishra on shifting from IT Services to SaaS products
“When you solve problems for your customer as a services entrepreneur, the equity remains with them. But as a product entrepreneur, the equity vests with you!”
How to save 18 months of runway when building your SaaS startup from India
Most founders try for India first and then pivot to South East Asia and then to the US. If they directly choose to build for US then they save the time they spent in India.