Despite graduating in Computer Science, Nilotpal discovered his true calling in sales. He is a growth-oriented leader with over 15 years of experience in building and expanding technology companies and an ISB degree.
Nilotpal shares his insights on how he co-founded Bluecopa, the modern finance operations platform for high-growth companies, in an upcoming interview.
YC- Nilotpal, Welcome to the Yellow Chapter. It’s great to have you here. We aim to understand you. Please share your background, family, education, and how they led to co-founding Bluecopa.
Neel – Born on September 11th in Calcutta and raised as an only child by my engineer father and a homemaker mother. Due to my father’s transferable job, I grew up in various places and had the opportunity to experience new cultures and perspectives.
Education and discipline were highly emphasised by my parents, which moulded me into the person I am today, even if I didn’t fully comprehend it as a child. To provide stability, my parents sent me to Ramakrishna Mission Vidyapith | Purulia. for boarding school, where I spent five years and performed well on my 10th board exams.
Following my 10th board exams, I enrolled in Delhi Public School in RK Puram. Before this, I was an introvert, but attending DPS transformed me as I interacted with a diverse group of classmates and developed my outgoing personality. This was a pivotal moment that ultimately led me to my current career in software sales.
YC – Why engineering?
Neel – Growing up, children often emulate their fathers. Even though my parents extended me exposure to all avenues, Engineering was always at the back of my mind.
2000: BTech Computer Science Engineering @Punjab Technical University
YC- A lot of engineering students read my blog. Can you share some suggestions on how they can make the most of their college experience?
Nilotpal- We were part of the dot-com era, and after completing 12th grade, many of us aspired to become computer engineers without fully understanding what the field entailed. At the time, IT and computer science programs had emerged, but there was a lack of comprehension. These courses were essentially a four-year paid break.
Twenty years later, the internet has seen a massive explosion of information and advice from both successful and unsuccessful individuals. I studied computer engineering, but I haven’t coded since. The biggest takeaway for me was I made lifelong friends during those four years.
Twenty years later, I have some advice for aspiring engineers:
1. Reflect on your life goals and aspirations. Play to your strengths: Know what you are good at and what you need to work on.
2. Identify your strengths and use them to your advantage.
3. Don’t be limited by your exposure: Everyone may not have had the same experiences, but don’t hold back. Reach out to others through social media and connect with your role models. Many are open to responding.
4. Be unapologetic in seeking advice and mentorship: With the growth of the internet economy, people are more open to giving honest feedback. Although I may not feel ready to give advice myself, I still share my journey and experiences with early-stage startup founders who reach out. I am happy to help.
YC- Based on your experience, what career tips do you have for engineering students starting their professional journey?
Neel- At the beginning of your career, don’t prioritise money above all else. The economy will have ups and downs, and while money is important, it’s not everything. People who claim that money can’t buy happiness are not entirely correct. Money can buy many things, but it’s not the only thing to consider.
Instead, focus on acquiring real skills and building connections. Networking is key in the early stages of your career. Seek a boss who can support your growth and help you to be your authentic self.
My learning – After completing my engineering studies, I joined Tata Consultancy Services (TCS). In the early 2000s, many TCS employees aimed to work overseas, particularly in the US. However, I was presented with a unique opportunity to work in Norway.
I took a calculated risk and chose a challenging opportunity to work in Norway, which was not well-known at the time, as one of the first few employees from TCS. My boss, Mannu Lodha , was a dynamic salesperson who taught me valuable lessons. Through working with him, I discovered my passion for a customer-facing role.
YC- Neel, now can we discuss your professional roadmap and learnings along the way?
Neel – After college, I joined Polaris Software Lab Limited, where I met my current co-founder, Satya. This experience emphasised the importance of building a network and strong relationships, as you never know how those connections will benefit you in the future. However, after just six months, I decided to leave Polaris as I was seeking a job with more international opportunities, such as TCS or Infosys, at the time. Despite leaving, I made valuable friendships at Polaris that I still cherish.
2004 – 2008: Assistant Systems Engineer @TCS
I started my career at TCS as a Functional Tester and spent the first year and a half offshore. But then, I was given the chance to work on-site in Norway, which I eagerly accepted. Working with Mannu Lodha, I was introduced to the world of B2B sales and gained a deeper understanding of what it entails.
Takeaways from TCS:
1. I learned about how B2B sales work and gained valuable training in this area.
2. It’s okay to explore other areas of a company, such as operations, sales, and marketing, if you’re not satisfied with your current role. Keep an open mind to new opportunities.
3. Always be open to learning and exploring new areas. If you’re not feeling fulfilled in your current role, keep your eyes and ears open and find out what other opportunities are available. With an open mind, you’ll eventually find the area that’s right for you.
YC- 2008, you decide to pursue an MBA; why?
Nilotpal- I discovered my strengths in the following:
1. Building relationships
2. Navigating complex information while working at Tata Consultancy Services (TCS).
I realised I was not satisfied with my role as a functional tester and wanted to transition into selling software. However, at the time, there were limited opportunities for engineers to switch roles, and an MBA was seen as a necessary step.
I attempted the CAT but was unable to clear it. My father, who was always supportive in my academic and career decisions, encouraged me to attend a top-notch institute. ISB was a great option with a 1 year PGP program for people with experience. I wrote the GMAT and was accepted to ISB. Despite being a common profile as an engineer and IT male, I was able to make the most of my time at ISB and achieve my goals. In hindsight, this was one of the best decisions.
Takeaways from ISB (2008-2009)
During my time at ISB, the batch size was around 450-500 students. A significant portion of the class were top engineers from the IITs and CAs. It was a competitive environment, but I soon realised that it was important to play to my strengths. The one-year program provided an excellent opportunity to build a network, which I knew was crucial for my future.
My classmates had diverse backgrounds, including a deep sea scuba diver, someone who fought in the Kargil War, and the former captain of the Indian hockey team. They all had the discipline and a strong work ethic, which I admired and strived to emulate. To achieve success, I learned that consistency was key.
Unfortunately, the global economy was in turmoil with the subprime crisis and the fall of Lehman Brothers, which affected our class’s job prospects. Despite being at a top-notch institute like ISB, 50% of the batch were unable to secure job offers. I was lucky to receive an offer from Infotech Enterprises, although not in a sales but a marketing role. I accepted the offer.
Many of my classmates became entrepreneurs, and many of them have even found great success. Souvik, who was in my study group, started a food venture and bootstrapped the business during difficult times. I have a lot of respect for people like him who follow their passion.
Deepesh, the founder of MoveInSync, was another classmate who had the mindset to start a business right after ISB. He has built a successful company.
Some classmates started their ventures a few years later after working in corporate positions, such as Abhishek Kumar, Gautam Chopra of BeatO, Nimesh Mehta of Rockmetric, Ritesh Jain, Manish Lunia & Deepak Jain of Flexiloans.
2009: Senior Sales Manager – Asia Pacific @NetCracker
After a few months at Infotech, I joined NetCracker Technology and spent seven fantastic years in sales. I led sales and customer satisfaction efforts for the Emerging Markets (India and South East Asia) region. My responsibilities included developing a customer acquisition strategy, conducting sales due diligence, and assuming end-to-end commercial ownership for multiple accounts.
Key learnings from Netcracker:
1. Sales requires unlearning technology and leaving technical baggage behind.
2. Understanding the business holistically, including its order to cash cycle, is crucial in identifying friction points for selling solutions.
3. People buy from people, and building relationships with customers and within the company is essential for success.
4. The team, including finance, operations, and legal, plays a crucial role in the sales process.
5. Relationships are key, and maintaining them even after the sales process is important for future success and building a strong company culture.
Although you may receive the credit and rewards for closing a successful multimillion-dollar deal, it is important to recognize that it is the result of the efforts of all the people involved in the journey. This is especially important to keep in mind if you are trying to build your own company.
I have maintained close relationships with my former sales team and everyone from the sales pursuits, solutioning, project delivery, finance & legal, even after 6 to 7 years. Just a single phone call is enough to bring us back to where we left off, and this demonstrates the importance of creating a strong and supportive culture within a company. This includes fostering values that everyone can uphold and inculcating a sense of teamwork and collaboration.
2016: Sales Director @Ramco Systems
My time at Netcracker was challenging and required extensive travel across South East Asia. However, I was missing out on kids growing up and spending quality time with family. That’s when I joined Ramco Systems, India’s leading ERP product company.
At Ramco, I was able to learn about the cloud, which was rapidly gaining popularity. Most importantly, I met a bunch of very enterprising & passionate folks who shaped the next phase of my professional journey.
2018: Head of Growth @Optotax
By this time, Satya had already founded a startup that was later acquired by Apple. He was based in Cupertino, working on cutting technology products. He called me one day with a thought to do something in India, as he believed it was the future. With the introduction of GST and the growth of Jio, there was potential for a good use case. Optotax was formed when Aditya and Rajat from Ramco came with me to take this plunge.
I led the GTM function. Raghava joined a bit later. Our focus was on tax practitioners, and our platform was used by 40,000 tax practitioners for over 1 million MSMEs and SMEs.
However, in 2019, COVID hit, and our primary revenue source, lending, was impacted by restrictions imposed by the RBI. Despite struggling, we received interest from potential acquirers and eventually decided to join forces with Open Financial Technologies in June 2021. The acquisition allowed our team to align with Open’s vision and move forward together. Neobank Open acquires Optobizz in a $5 million stock-plus-cash deal.
Learnings from Optotax: This was my first venture into startups & entrepreneurship, where I learned the key aspects of building and scaling a successful business, such as finding product market fit, taking products to market, and building an organisation. Cultivating a positive & cohesive organisational culture is vital for success. The core team at Optotax was one of the best, and we still fall back on each other for advice.
Encouraging innovation requires a combined effort in sales and marketing, as well as all other aspects of GTM, including product development, target market identification, ICP, marketing messaging, positioning, and sales strategies.
YC- Why Bluecopa?
Neel – We spent eight months with Open, integrating our product and company into the larger organisation. Although Open was already thriving, we felt that there was still more potential in the team. We wanted to build an enduring company and create value.
After having honest discussions, Satya, Raghav, and I realised that we still had the drive to start all over again. With the startup ecosystem having matured, we had access to many resources and evaluated several models before settling on Bluecopa – The Modern Finance Operations Platform, which held a special place in our hearts.
From our experiences, we learned that finance professionals work incredibly hard. Within any organisation, finance is often the division that puts in late nights to gather and organise information, despite being crucial to the company’s budget and finances. Despite significant investments in sophisticated tools for other departments such as marketing, sales, operations, and HR, finance is often left behind.
When we looked at the situation more closely, we realised that while ERP systems have been around for 25 years, finance professionals still rely heavily on manual processes and excel sheets. Although there are smaller tools available, there is a clear gap in the market for a comprehensive solution—for example GitHub and Salesforce, which have transformed the work of developers and salespeople.
YC- Could we delve into the market size, ideal customer profile, and competitive landscape in both the Indian and US markets for your product?
Neel – Sure
MVP: The MVP of Bluecopa is focused on providing continuous or real-time finance observability.
It aggregates data from various tools within an organisation, cleans and normalises it, and presents it in an easily digestible form for the finance team. In essence, create a uniform language for finance & business to collaborate and power growth sustainably.
With a user-friendly interface designed to be similar to Excel, which finance professionals are familiar with, Bluecopa has gained significant traction. It eliminates the dependence of finance teams on data and technology teams and allows them to have greater control over their work.
Market: The potential market size for our product is substantial. Rough estimates place the finance operations market at $20+ billion, with the growing CFO tech market estimated to be worth $25 to $30 billion.
Competitors: As we aim to create a new category in the market, there are currently no direct competitors. The closest related space is the Enterprise Performance Management (EPM) market, with Anaplan as a leading player and then you have the most widely used tool Microsoft Excel.
However, Bluecopa is distinct from these players as we aim to offer a full-stack finance operations automation platform.
Team – Satya is a highly skilled technologist and a product/engineering nerd. Raghava is a subject matter expert, a very astute strategic thinker & operator, while I bring global sales and go-to-market experience. With these complementary skill sets, we are equipped for global success from the start. This is reflected in our website, messaging, and positioning, which are all designed with a global audience in mind.
Vision: Our vision is to create a comprehensive & full stack Finance Operations Automation Platform that covers all aspects of finance operations, including data management, financial and non-financial reporting, advanced analytics & decision intelligence, workflows, reconciliations, and more.
Customers: We have partnered with 5-6 early adopters and are focused on providing exceptional user experience. Despite being only one year into our journey, we have already generated a substantial pipeline by starting our content efforts early on. Our aim is to ensure we do not waste anyone’s time but rather delight them. To achieve this, we have carefully selected a mix of global and Indian early adopters.
Projections: Our goal is to rapidly reach 50 customers as our product is maturing and the GTM messaging is becoming clear. We have received a fair amount of inbound inquiries and believe that with continued iteration, we can achieve our target in a timely manner.
YC- SaaS founders have three big problems— product market fit, marketing and sales. Being an expert in marketing and sales, what are your suggestions for fellow founders?
Neel – Focus on creating a product that delivers an exceptional experience. Pay attention to its appearance and design, and make sure that it prioritises the end user’s experience above all else.
a) Figuring out ICP: To determine your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP), immerse yourself in the market and gather insights through targeted research. Rather than immediately discussing your solution, focus on understanding the specific pain points and problems faced by your potential customers.
Aim to interview a diverse sample group of 100 individuals, including representatives from large, small, mid-market, high mid-market, and SMB companies. The goal is to gain a deep understanding of the problem at hand and how it affects different types of businesses. By doing so, you can identify your ICP and tailor your solution to the specific needs of a very niche and satisfied set of users rather than offering a generic solution.
ICP for Bluecopa – High transaction volume & high growth business spanning across e-commerce, logistics, gaming & financial services.
b) Adopt an honest approach when selling your solution. Once you have a clear understanding of your Ideal Customer Profile (ICP) through targeted research and feedback, it’s time to start talking about problems & how your solution addresses that problems.
c) Continuously iterate and improve upon it, but always prioritise delivering a positive user experience. In today’s market, user experience is paramount, so engage with your ICP as early adopters and be transparent in your sales pitch. Avoid making false promises; instead, focus on meeting their needs and exceeding their expectations. Regardless of the size of your team, strive to cultivate a customer-centric mindset throughout your organisation.
d) Content reigns supreme: Don’t settle for generic content. Focus on creating in-depth, problem-solving content that thoroughly explores the issues you aim to address.
e) Build a community by writing content that clearly articulates the problem and offers insights on potential solutions. Remember that product development takes time, so don’t limit yourself. Pursue multiple initiatives in parallel and continuously iterate not only on your product but also on your go-to-market strategy, marketing, and sales cycles.
f) Use A/B testing to gauge the effectiveness of your marketing messaging and determine which content resonates best with your audience and generates the most engagement.
g) Embrace Mistakes: Experienced entrepreneurs and second or third-time founders may make fewer errors, but as a first-time founder, don’t be afraid to experiment and try new things. It’s natural to make mistakes in the early stages, and it’s better to make them sooner than later. No one will judge you for making mistakes at this stage. In fact, failure is often seen as a necessary step on the path to success. So embrace the opportunity to learn, iterate quickly, and don’t be afraid to fail fast.
YC- What motivates you and drives you forward? What is your personal philosophy or guiding principle?
Neel- I have been fortunate enough to travel extensively and witness the diversity of cultures and experiences the world has to offer. It taught me the importance of experimenting, taking risks and embracing new ideas. Without taking risks and trying new things, we end up becoming obsolete in an ever-evolving world. That’s why I believe it’s better to experiment and embrace the possibility of failure than to remain stagnant. Life is too short to do that.
Book Recommendations –
Neel – I highly recommend “Zero to One” as a must-read for anyone, regardless of their aspirations in entrepreneurship. The principles outlined in this book can be applied to any aspect of life and work. By embracing an entrepreneurial mindset, you will become more impactful and successful, making your voice heard and your ideas realised.
Nilotpal, it was wonderful speaking with you. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts. Yellow Chapter wishes you all the best in your future endeavours.