Thiyagarajan Maruthavanan, Partner at Upekkha, Value SaaS Accelerator led a conversation with Vijay Rayapati of Nutanix, on his journey of building Minjar which was acquired by Nutanix, elaborating how they enhanced their optionality and ensured meaningful outcomes for their employees and investors.
The discussion started off with Vijay's thoughts on the acceleration of opportunities for B2B SaaS due to rapid digital transformation as a result of COVID-19
Vijay also began to share his story which he summarized as,
"one failed startup, one acquihire and one decent exit."
From the time he moved to Bangalore right after college, to working with Trilogy for sometime, trying his hand at a food startup - Amnigos, which was one of the first attempts at food delivery in Bangalore long before the advent of smartphones, to going back to consulting, joining Gizapage as CTO, then moving on to Kuliza, and founding Minjar, to his role now as GM at Nutanix & Beam, Vijay spoke about some of the important lessons and mistakes that he experienced.
- The first startup, Amnigos in the Food Tech space, they failed to build a good product. They were trying to solve the problem of restaurant reviews, online listings, table reservations, customer management, orders, input/output costs and more. The scope was too broad and they ran out of resources.
- The second, Gizapage in the Social Tech domain, they were able to build a good product for brands, but were not able to build a good business model around that. Despite acquiring a handful of customers, when the brands don't use the tech themselves but have agencies in between, they couldn't crack the GTM to the brands via agencies.
- At the third startup, Minjar, Vijay and team were able to build really good tech, a good business model, but didn't have the opportunity to scale it beyond the first few million dollars of revenue because of the acquisition.
Vijay explained that is why at Nutanix, he's learning how to build a good product and a good GTM strategy around that, find a successful business model, figure out how to scale that business model and sustain that.
He also led us through the phenomenal story of Nutanix's growth and how much they have transformed over the years.
Rajan and Vijay then discussed India SaaS from the 80's and 90's to the enormous opportunities that it presents now, where people are building software from India to the rest of the world.
"India teaches you a lot of hard lessons, if you can really survive and thrive in this market, you can pretty much adapt and thrive in a more structured ecosystem like the US. The people before us have laid the foundation, and every generation now is trying to scale that ambition.
The best is yet to come for the country, and even for this generation, because the opportunities are enormous. Not only can we go build businesses in the US, many are building core tech and core product with $10M, $50M, even $100M revenue from India. People are also coming back from the US to build fairly large businesses here.
Now, we may only have a handful of names to talk about at scale but my personal belief is in the next 3-5 years, we would see hundreds if not thousands, and we would have a lot more Indian founders"
Vijay also talked about how the current crisis has created a level playing field, so the possibilities are endless for more winning startups.
Rajan then asked Vijay about his exit and post-exit journey. Vijay opined how it's not just about startups being successful but also how the people in the startups get to be successful as good product / business leaders, also receiving meaningful outcomes for all their efforts and risks taken.
He shared how at Minjar, they spent nearly $2M beyond ESOPs, as one-time bonuses for the employees who had been part of their journey.
"Everybody got rewarded, giving them the motivation and courage to go either join another startup or try to build a startup in the future themselves. It also sends a good signal to the entire ecosystem. Because it's really sad when you build a good company, have a great exit, and as founders you make money but your employees don't make money or they make some money and it's not very meaningful.
It's your job as a founder to make sure the team wins, and to follow through when you say 'team first'"
Vijay who did his schooling under Telugu medium of instruction, then spoke about how fulfilling it felt to hire and train people from rural backgrounds, and how as founders, you could bring up people who are equally capable or equally ambitious, who just didn't have the same opportunities or circumstances that favoured them.
He also shared the heartwarming story of their 'unknown angel' from Texas as Rajan called her. Nancy, a kindergarten teacher, close to retirement, overheard their conversations and decided to take a chance on Vijay and his co-founder, Anand, by investing her life savings in their startup.
"I used to tell people, if a school teacher can trust us with her retirement funds, you can trust us."
Rajan then asked Vijay about Minjar's acquisition and how they maintained founder optionality.
Vijay went on to say how as a founder, one of the most important things you need to understand is optionality, because you have to make hundreds of decisions over the course of time. It's not just about making that particular decision but about examining how it will create a net positive outcome beyond that decision.
He pointed out some key decisions that he and Anand stood by at Minjar.
- Rejecting outright an Angel Investor who offered them close to $650K for 40% dilution when they had just started out and deciding to bootstrap instead
- Deciding to get money from 2-3 friends rather than diluting business, when they truly believed they could build a better and long-term business
- Turning down a $5M term sheet, and deciding not to go down that capital-infused growth approach
- Choosing to focus on building both the product and the business in a systemic way
- Staying away from certain partnerships and OEMs because they didn't want to commit to much bigger partners while still figuring out their own GTM model
He explained that although these were hard choices, as a founder, one had to get comfortable with being uncomfortable and make those choices. Vijay also laid out why choosing not to go down the capital-driven path was the right decision for Minjar and reiterated the Value SaaS way of building SaaS.
"My personal philosophy was raise as little capital as possible and try do to as much as possible with it, which is when you put in $1 and make $4-5 out of it"
Vijay also enunciated how good and strategic decision-making is crucial for SaaS and since there were some technical issues, Rajan and he closed the fireside chat by discussing how optionality is not just about being capital-efficient, but also making sure your future opportunities are more abundant as opposed to cornering yourself into a hard place without much choice or meaningful outcomes.
At Upekkha, SaaS founders will learn and be guided to implement Value SaaS frameworks, that help them build SaaS in a capital-efficient way, with enhanced freedom and flexibility as founders, ensuring more options and opportunities in the future, as well as, securing meaningful outcomes for themselves as founders, and for their employees as well as stakeholders.
Last date for applications to Upekkha's VSF Basecamp program is August 16th. Apply now at bit.ly/UpekkhaApply
Watch the FB Live here: bit.ly/VijayRayapatiXUpekkha