Let us read through the life story of this man, who is on with his enthralling entrepreneurial journey and finds no room to rest!
YC: It is said that “the child is the father of the man”. What were your childhood days like?
Ankit – I was born in Bhagalpur, Bihar. My father was a businessman, manufacturing pharmaceuticals. We kept moving and lived across cities like Chennai, Patna and Kolkata. I did my schooling in Chennai.
In the South, there is a culture for pursuing Engineering. My father wanted me to pursue the same, but I was an average student. I never had the grades to get into good colleges. Somehow, my father put me in Amity University, Delhi.
I consider it a transformative year. I realised I was not taking life seriously, wasting away years. One learns from failures, so did I. I decided to pursue a BBA degree, hence left the University.
The thought process was that if I secure admission in any of the top three BBA colleges in the country, I’ll go for it, else I will join the business. I got admitted into Symbiosis Centre for Management Studies where I did my graduation. The same was the notion when I targeted MBA. I got into Narsee Monjee Institute of Management Studies and did my Masters there.
@ With friends at NMIMS
YC: How did your entrepreneurial journey begin? How did you end up in software?
Ankit: I joined my family business in 2011 after completing my MBA. Worked there for a few years but I was very clear that I did not want to spend my life doing the pharma business. So I quit and started something of my own. I listed down my limitations.
- I was never a tech guy. Therefore, I could not go for high-end technology.
- I had less money. I also did not know how to raise funds.
- I wanted to be profitable quickly enough.
I always wanted to create something on my own, in technology. So in 2014, I built Appitsimple. My father supported me financially, I received 10 lakhs. It was my first attempt, and I was new to it. I never went for an internship, never knew what Angel funding or VC funding was. The sole objective I had in mind was to be profitable in a year and a half.
It was then we realised that there was no platform for software discovery in India. We started with a program called SoftwareSuggest. It was an online platform to discover top Business Software & Service Partners. It is the one-stop destination for all businesses looking for software and services relevant to their industry. It was falling within all the restrictions I had. It was simple, not high-end technology, and we went for it.
@ Team Appitsimple
YC: How were the initial days of SoftwareSuggest?
The Snowball Effect
Ankit: We kept things simple. We landed our initial customers from the NMIMS alumni network. Then there was the snowball effect, we could see SoftwareSuggest growing gradually. We were the monopoly in this and had no competitors. This gave us the liberty of being of our own, even in terms of price and services.
YC: Why CallHippo – A call centre management software?
Ankit: When SoftwareSuggest caught pace, I observed a gap in the available mediums to connect with customers. We were initially using Skype. There were a lot of innovations that happened in emails, chat, etc but not many wanted to experiment with telephony as it is complex. We tried a couple of other telephony systems but they had a bad user experience. So in 2017, we created CallHippo, which is an easy-to-use phone system that enables pre & post telephony automation.
We found call centre management software easy to start with. We also wanted to avoid competing with our customers. We funded CallHippo from the profit we gained from SoftwareSuggest, and were fortunate enough to become break-even within a year.
The regulations in the telephone rules in India have refrained us from exploring the domestic market. There have been changes in the rules, and we are planning to expand ourselves in the Indian market.
YC: You have invested in Enthu.ai. Why, your thought process behind this investment?
Ankit: There is something called the Thrasio model followed by the E-commerce industry. We want to pull that off in the SaaS industry. In this model, we acquire small companies which are in the B2B category and help them expand.
We know how to make a brand in the global market, we have a good understanding of it. We have done this in SoftwareSuggest as well as CallHippo. We have grown both our companies through SEO and performance marketing. We want to invest more, in 70L or 1Cr revenue earning companies and help them expand to $2-$3 million in revenue.
YC: Most SaaS founders face issues in selling globally. What is your take on this?
Ankit: Every product is different. You have to adopt strategies according to your product. A few strategies, which worked for us:
- SEO – The most important of all. You have to be on the first page of the Google search list and eventually target the first, three links. Analyse, analyse and analyse to find the white spots.
- Performance marketing – Getting traffic through paid ad campaigns on Google, Facebook, Instagram, etc.
- Marketplace partnerships- Getting listed on Upspot marketplace, Google marketplace or partnering with CRMs to handpick the marketplace and get your traffic from there.
YC: Can you elaborate on Search Engine Optimisation?
Ankit: SEO takes patience. It’s not that you fill your content with keywords and traffic starts building. It takes time to work. You have to continuously keep doing a lot of things.
- Adapt. Try to understand what Google wants you to do. Keep adapting to those changes.
- Do continuous experimentation. Things would change over time. Explore different aspects of the algorithm and find your own ways.
- Compare yourself to the top ten competitors. Be smart enough to understand what they’re doing and what they aren’t. Understand why they’re ranking, copy that, and emulate that.
YC: Bootstrap Vs Funding, your take?
Ankit: Both have their own pros and cons. I can with full authority speak about my bootstrap journey.
- Focus for profitability
- Free of pressure
Being in the B2B space, I feel we could manage ourselves without external investors. But I think to grow in B2C space funding is a MUST these days. A lot of funding is also being raised in the D2C space. We are located in Ahmedabad. Hence, we never had the fancy dream of getting ourselves to the one billion mark.
I was born in a privileged family so extended financial responsibility was taken care of. Software Suggest seed funding was given by my dad but if someone doesn’t have the cash to start and sustain a good idea, taking funding is justified. Also, if you are not very convinced of bootstrapping, then go ahead and raise funds.
YC: Any acquisitions planned to grow the organisation?
Ankit: I strongly believe India will soon be the SaaS capital of the world and we want to make the most of it. Although acquisitions require a lot of planning and headhunting. Right now I am building an arm that can head our acquisitions in B2B space. We have prepared a checklist to identify such startups. Basically invest in fast follow SaaS:
a) Startup selling to a global audience.
b) Startup targeting a very large market (& are not niche).
c) Startups are in a proven market (& are not trying to create a new market).
YC: Your take on product-market fit?
The Product ‘Marketing’ Fit!
Ankit: Paras Chopra – Founder & Chairman of Wingify, said two amazing things:
1. Don’t look for the product-market fit, look for the product ‘marketing’ fit.
2. Look for the product founder fit and further develop the founder marketing fit.
The idea is to focus on marketing. SaaS is all about distribution. 90% of Indian SaaS startups are product marketing fit.
Crafting a product ‘marketing’ fit – CallHippo is not the only product purchased in the market. There are more than 5000 products which do the same thing throughout the world. We analysed the marketing value of CallHippo. Apart from the tech, we simultaneously built on the marketing side of the product as well. And voila we were able to make CallHippo stand on its own feet within a year.
YC: As a founder, you have to take calls every day. What keeps you going in tough times?
Ankit: We have been in business for 8+ years now and have seen the typical business cycles many times now. We have seen bad months of sales, people leaving, competition and many more. We have managed to pull so far and now we are confident enough to pull further.
Also, I always compare myself with other organisations. We have done better than most other bootstrapped startups. We have not failed in any of our products.
Software Suggest has about 70% of the Indian market share. We are also gaining popularity in the global market.
Call Hippo became break-even within the first year of operations and is growing stronger.
We are expanding, experimenting with different products that can help companies grow organically. We had grown about 55% without any external funds and I am bullish on our growth.
YC: Any SaaS community that has helped or influenced you?
Ankit: SaaSBOOMi. Avinash Raghava, the founder of SaaSBOOMi , convinced me to join the community. It was SaaSX2 by then. Krishna, the founder of Freshdesk was the speaker there. It was the first time I understood the global market. It was a small event with 150 people, but it influenced me a lot. I’ve never missed a session from then on and will recommend it strongly.
YC: Any specific suggestions to the young minds?
Little steps make a long journey…
Ankit: Many changes are happening in the industry which leaves no specific suggestions to anybody. It is always subjective. At every stage, they have to read different things. They will have to talk to different kinds of people. They can choose whatever interests them, but they should keep reading. One should keep learning about what is happening around.
Entrepreneurship is not that difficult. No founder is aware of his/her result. They focus on the ‘next steps, try to give their 100%, and move forward. Stories are always made up in hindsight, the journey will not be as difficult as it is narrated.
Be open to feedback, be economical, and work hard. Success is yours!
@ Team & Suhasini -Co-founder
It was great to hear from you. Yellow Chapters wishes you all the very best for the future!
Interviewer: Divya Jain