MandE: Good evening, today we have with us Prashanth Kaddi - a NITK and IIM A Alumn
He has since started the company called Metrix line. Without further delay lets request Prashant to give a background about himself and then explain about his company.
Prashanth: Thank you,
I am Prashant. I had a very studious background –my schooling at Kendriya vidyalaya and then moved on to do my bachelors in Computer Science from NITK in 1995. Through the campus placements I joined IBM. While at IBM, I looked at how the IT industry was working and wasn’t happy with it. So within an year, I got a call from IIM Ahmedabad.
I had set a goal of being management consultant when I joined there; I got an opportunity to do my summer internship in the company – Anderson Consulting in their business consulting wing. I realized that just consulting wouldn’t give me what I was looking for; I needed more action in my work.
While at IIMA, I attended a course by Prof Sunil Handa – Laboratory in Entrepreneurial Motivation. I didn’t have a very clear objective of what the course would give me – the course gave me a stimulus into what I wanted to do in life.
I joined ICICI from the campus placements, partly motivated by the education loan I had to clear. I also wanted to look at the marketing front of activities in business. I had a pretty good stint here – I was involved in many new financial product design and marketing. The impact of our work was significant – with a lot of results to show. The work I did was interesting, but I was not feeling excited about the environment – working in a large company. After having a stint in large companies this far, I felt I didn’t like working in large companies.
Jump into entrepreneurship was more a decision from the head than the heart – I didn’t enjoy the stress levels that was building up which in turn prevented me from enjoying the good things that were happening around me.
After 2 years at ICICI, I began talking with a lot of people – there were multiple groups formed focusing on different ideas. In one such group, I had found a batch mate of mine, who himself wasn’t very serious – but put me in touch with his senior who was keen on starting off. This partner of mine had begun working with a startup and stayed with its journey towards being a large company. The idea we began working was – governance of IT outsourcing. Having observed the business very closely at IBM and Mphasis (where my partner worked earlier) – we realized that
- It is a high value business
- It has a large amount of inefficiency built into it.
We decided to use metrics and quantitative assessments, which could according to our estimates increase the efficiency by 10%. Nasscom was projecting the industry to be of $ 50 Billion – and say with 10% we would be saving $ 5 billion for our clients. So clearly the company product we were developing had the potential of being $100 million.
We got our first consulting assignment in the same space – which could fund salaries of 5-6 people, we put together a small team – this was around end 2005. We came out with the first version of the product in 2006, two things followed –
- This version received a lot of resistance from the market and it wouldn't fly easily.
- We would require raising finance to accelerate product development.
From our friend’s experience and the reading on the internet we realized that the equity we would part for this purpose would be extremely high!
The good thing that happened during this time was that a couple of companies we were speaking to began showing some traction – the challenge that these companies were facing was about the silos of organizing data. Each of these were understood only by certain group of people. Take for example - A product manager wants to get the P/L associate with his product; unless the finance person has the bandwidth to provide this info, there was no way it would be accessible to him. But this was an important feeder into the decision making about the product line!
This was the space of analytics and business intelligence. Tough our platform was capable of doing this, but we had a very narrow domain focus. We realized that we needed to make the product more generic and this would help us get a lot of traction. Large companies hadn’t figures out the solution to this problem world wide – So this was a problem we felt we could solve for the world the very first time from India!
IBM has bought a business analytics company for 6 billion dollars in 2008. SAP bought “Business objects” for 5.5 billion dollars. Harvard guys have begun writing about this too – a book called “Competing on Analytics”. These changes have happened over the last 5 years. In the book “Competing on Analytics” it is said that – product is no longer a differentiator – the only differentiator is going to be quickly you understand market trends and how quickly you could react to these trends.
And everybody looking at there is huge growth market, and in in hindsight the traction was real. So today, we have a product which we call –a data to information platform – we have figures out how we are different from all other solution in the market, also differentiate ourselves in a competition from large companies like IBM, SAP or other dozens of companies that have emerges in the same space.
MandE: How are you addressing the challenge posed by the larger companies in the field?
Prashanth: We could look at it in 2 ways – the technological angle and the business angle. These are not by design, but have evolved over our years of business.
In general, any data to information service provider would do the following 3 things
- Aggregate the data at a single place
- Analyze and Synthesize the data
- Interpret and Present the data as information.
Traditionally, it was extremely hard to have an integrated product for all these – it was typically a combination of 4-5 different products. These had to be configured and programmed to work for specific organizations – this meant a large cost implications for the companies. The companies would have to invest nearly Rs 4-5 Crores before beginning, also the problem addressed was typically fewer in numbers. This was a huge pain point with users.
We focused on this pain point and designed our technology to be extremely flexible with minimal programming effort at the customer end. This would make our product easier and faster to deploy. Our objective was to reach to zero-programming design; this has put us way better than many existing products. This was the differentiator on the technology front.
Pretty early we realized that most of the enterprise IT solutions were moving to hosted and subscription based solutions. The poster boy of this move was – Salesforce.com. Lot of people were beginning to say – I don’t want to buy your software, I just want to use it – this was a shift from ownership to usage of a license. Given this, we decided to try out the subscription model.
This decision helped us reduce the extra costs associated with trying to sell a high priced product. This was a differentiator for us from the business model point of view.
MandE: In your journey of the last 6 years, what have been your best and worst moments?
Prashanth: Entrepreneurship is a crazy emotional ride with many ups and downs.
One of our first down we faced was when one of our best product developers quit - that was primarily for money. Since we were a small group, this reduced our team size by nearly 10%! It was really hard to accept this for a few days!
The second down side we faced was when we lost a client – we had engaged very close with a company; but then there was organizational restricting and the CEO with whom we were working was fired – the organization changed their complete direction; which made us redundant. We had even begun making some revenues and if the contract had gotten implemented completely, it would have defined our next growth! 2009 was anther hard year; we were close to closing 2 enterprise levels working with 2 fortune 500 companies. One of them fired 40% of their staff! What we had projected to achieve in 2009, we were finally able to achieve it in 2011.
In 2009 when we came up with the product, the market was tanking; but we stuck to what we had decided to have our first 10 clients from among the fortune 500 companies. This would make it easier for us to sell to the 11th client. When we achieved each of these milestones – it was great feeling.
Another high has been in the last 2 years, when we were in direct competition with the major companies. When we won contracts for specific products from this competition – it was a bigh high for us.
In start ups, you don’t have the time to enjoy your small victories for a long time; you need to move on.
Last year was the most memorable day for me – It was when we signed our contract with Microsoft. This was special for 2 reasons –
- They themselves had a competing product to ours in the same space
- They are the world’s largest product company.
MandE: How did you sustain in the last major economic crash?
Prashanth: 2009-10 was really hard years. We had entered the market in 2008 and the product revenues had just begun kicking in; the services revenue was still with us. While the services helped us survive, the product side was severely dented.
The crash taught us an important lesson – Our primary target at that time was the US market given the margins. We realized that over reliance on US was really terrible – since then we have tried to expand our business into a mix of developing and developed economies.
Since we have subscription model for our product - it was in some sense was a recession proof business models. Though initially we stuck with this as a matter of chance, it proved to be extremely beneficial for us.
MandE: from this experience, what was your biggest take away?
1. When I look back I realized I was hung upon the Idea - which could be 100 million dollars; I didn’t want to be a small shop. In reality – you have to be there and do that, in order to say that you know. It cannot be based on imagination.
2. Cash is absolutely king.
3. Its ultimately about people - we need to take this aspect more seriously and learn to keep the motivation high and running. It’s ultimately all about retaining the best talent when you have little monetary buffer.
MandE: What is your message for the aspiring entrepreneurs?
Prashanth: Start with a right motivation – it has to strong emotionally to handle the ups and down of the business. Do not take to entrepreneurship for reasons like – the glamour quotient associated or just for fun.
As a broad principle having an understanding about the space is a good starting point if you are thinking of – this is for non breakthrough sort of innovations.
It is important to manage the friends and families who would be your support line in this journey.
MandE: Thank you Prashanth, thank you once again.