Technology entrepreneurs make giant leap from services to product development

By Vasumita S. Adarsh

Technology entrepreneurs who honed their skills by delivering services to overseas clients are turning to product development as money and talent become more easily available.

Quick to spot gaps in the market, these professionals, who have built up a base of capital and industry contacts, are creating products in areas such as online security and customer management for ecommerce companies.

“Services helped us remain profitable while gaining experience. It allowed us to ease into products without worrying about whether customers would buy what we have innovated and launched,” said Sanjay Deshpande, CEO and chief innovation officer of Uniken, which builds security software.

Set up with Rs 15 lakh, Uniken has built a user base of 10 lakh in the past five years. Deshpande estimates the company that has received initial funding of Rs 30 crore from Nexus Venture Partners will earn revenue of about Rs 620 crore in the next four years. For Deshpande, the transition from services to products was a mental adjustment as he had built up a base to ease into a product venture without financial insecurity.

However, the transition is not always so smooth for many others. Shirish Deodhar, cofounder of Sapience Analytics, a company offering productivity solutions to companies, said starting a services venture first can backfire.

He first set up a services company, In-reality Software, that offered outsourced product development for US clients. “But we were totally absorbed by the services venture and couldn’t focus on our product dream,” said the entrepreneur who went onto sell his first startup to Symphony Services.

The second time around, he decided to focus completely on products mindful of the earlier experience. “We had to invest heavily, work on the product continually improvising it, and eventually hope that customers will want to buy it,” he said.

However, as more investors begin to back technology product ventures, entrepreneurs are realising that it can be a high-risk, high-reward experience. In January, Little Eye Labs which develops technology to improve mobile application development, was acquired by Facebook for about Rs 90 crore within 18 months of being set up.

Sharad Sharma, co-founder of industry think tank iSpirt, is of the view that for those who don’t have the risk capital, funding their product venture through revenue from services is a viable option.

Instaclique, which helps ecommerce companies convert browsers into customers is an example of such a strategy. “We started Niyuj as a services venture developing software for clients,” said Avinash Shenoy, CEO of Instaclique.

Realising the opportunity to build their own intellectual property, Shenoy launched the product venture in 2012 that focused on the rapidly growing ecommerce space.

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‘Supermarket Superstar’ Mentor Serves Up 7 Tips for Product Development


For the past few months, Chris Cornyn — founder and president of food and drink marketing agency DINE Marketing — has sat in on the kitchens of Supermarket Superstar, Lifetime’s reality cooking competition that brings packaged foods to store’s shelves. With clients like Starbucks, Yoplait and Betty Crocker, Cornyn brought his expertise to entrepreneurs hoping to turn their recipes into national products.

After serving as mentor on the show’s first season, Cornyn noticed that while the food entrepreneurs were revved up about cooking, they were missing a key ingredient: business skills.


“In general, food entrepreneurs don’t learn the business side at the beginning. They get so enamored with what’s in the product, how it tastes and what their grandmother thinks of it, that the basic building blocks of building a food business are ignored,” says Cornyn. “Without that knowledge, your product will never get beyond your own garage.”

Cornyn gives a tasting of his top business tips to entrepreneurs in the food industry or otherwise:

Cook up a “reason for being.” Ask yourself how your product will fly off of stores’ shelves.

“It comes down to having something that is yours and yours only, what we call your ‘reason for being,’” says Cornyn. A lot of food entrepreneurs come at it and think they have something new, but once they get on shelf, they realize what they thought was new, isn’t.”

Related: 10 Things Jon Taffer of ‘Bar Rescue’ Wants You to Know About Running a Business

Order wisely. Not every good product idea will or should be pursued. Whether it’s bad timing or a lack of capital, sometimes the resources just aren’t there.

“At corporations, good ideas die because they just can’t get the momentum or the support; at small companies, good ideas may die just because there isn’t enough money to produce all the good ideas,” says Cornyn.

Rather than hoping to develop the item, taking a broader view may be a better endeavor for you. In other words, think big, but don’t be disappointed if every product you come up with doesn’t hit it out of the park. “Coming up with the next Oreo is one in a million, but coming up with a whole product line, you’re going to have a much better chance of success.”

Test with the right taste buds. Entrepreneurs’ earliest misstep is “believing just because your family and friends love your product, the world is going to love your product,” says Cornyn. While their early support is encouraging, don’t rely on your mother’s opinion to represent your target audience.

Instead, Cornyn recommends engaging in consumer testing and ensuring there is a need for your product in the market.

Serve your potential customers directly. When testing any new product — from software to a beauty item or tech gadget — collect consumer insights.

Cornyn suggests taking your product to where potential customers will be, like a local market, and observing their behavior, listening to feedback and tweaking the product to satisfy their needs.

Pick the right packaging strategy. With only seconds to grab a consumer’s attention, pick packaging that reflects your brand’s ethos — whether that’s personal story, functionality or attitude.

“Look at Method cleaners. There isn’t anything remarkable about what their detergent does over someone else’s, but the recycled packaging and clean design, that’s what the ethos of that brand is,” says Cornyn.

Related: How to Breed Positivity Among Customers and Clients

Add in smartphones and social media. “When we’re in a store, we don’t have our TV set or radio with us, but we have our smartphone and we can access information,” says Cornyn. As an entrepreneur, make sure you are on board with technology and keeping up with trends.

For your marketing efforts, include mobile avenues. Ensure your website is mobile-friendly and your social media strategy is strong on all devices.

Don’t count yourself out. Though equipped with a smaller budget, don’t get discouraged if all your competitors are corporations.

“What’s interesting is that whether you’re an entrepreneur or a multinational food company, nine out of ten new products fail,” says Cornyn. He explains success sometimes simply comes down to being in the “right place, right time with the right idea.”

Want to taste more of Cornyn’s tips. Check out his “From Concept-to-Consumption in 20 Steps” below:

'Supermarket Superstar' Mentor Serves Up 7 Tips for Product Development)



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Check out my Stanford Who’s Who Video!

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Five Reasons Companies Can Benefit From a Consultant

So how do you choose the right consultant for your company?

business-consultantFirst, talk to other companies a prospective consultant has worked with. Ask questions about what projects involved the consultant, how the consultant worked and how he or she delivered and met expectations. This will give you insights into the consultant’s expertise and methodology.

Find a consultant you can trust. This will be the key to a productive relationship.

Make sure the consultant understands the sensitivities and uncertainties of your employees about an outsider. Because the recession has made employees more nervous about keeping their jobs, you should explain why you’re bringing in the consultant and that the person can be a good filter for employees’ thoughts and feedback.

Finally, look for a consultant who is truly interested in your business and seeing it succeed.

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Six irresistible benefits of real quality assurance

Some people hate quality assurance. They enjoy the creative stages of a project, when they can map out storyboards or design ideas and turn policy-speak into friendly, accessible language. They don’t enjoy having to review that friendly, accessible language for typos.

I have to confess though – and I’m sure this won’t surprise anyone who knows me even a little bit – that I do enjoy QA.

There’s definitely an editor inside me. I like QA-ing other people’s work most (because it’s much easier and more effective when you’re objective and not close to the content) but I’m pretty happy QA-ing my own work too, when I need to.

Regardless of whether or not you enjoy QA, however, it’s important and something that needs to be done. What’s more, it needs to be done properly – giving something a cursory once-over and ticking the QA box isn’t enough.

A thorough and reliable QA process will eliminate all avoidable errors or bugs before you send something out to stakeholders. This means that they can focus on content and design reviews and it’ll take fewer iterations to get to sign-off point. It also means you can rest assured that any rework required will be about improving and enhancing content and design, rather than fixing mistakes you missed the first time around.

Aside from the financial benefits, giving QA the attention it deserves helps you deliver high quality deliverables, which means happy customers who trust you. You’ll earn a reputation for integrity and excellence (either as an organisation or as an individual (and both matter)) and, because happy customers talk, you’ll benefit from recommendations.

There’s an internal benefit as well: a focus on QA helps to develop a culture of continuous improvement. Colleagues will help each other develop, challenging things and preventing complacency setting in and leading to carelessness. In my experience, high standards are infectious – if one or two members of the team set the right example and pick up even the littlest things, these good habits will spread and you’ll develop a true QA culture.

So I see six key benefits of a thorough and effective QA process and culture:

  • You’ll achieve sign-off more quickly.
  • You’ll reduce the time and money spent on rework.
  • You’ll build trust and respect.
  • You’ll earn a reputation for excellence.
  • You’ll win word-of-mouth business.
  • You’ll nuture ongoing improvement.

What’s not to like?

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4 Common-Sense Tips for Product Development

productThere is never a good time for small businesses to swing and miss on a new product launch. But when companies are trying to survive a tough economy, owners must pay close attention to the process to avoid the psychological—and financial—toll of a failed launch.

A lot of business owners will never try something again if they have a first-time failure, says Andrew J. Sherman, author of Harvesting Intangible Assets and a partner with Jones Day, a law firm in Washington, D.C. “For a small company to try a new product or service and have it fail, and to not learn from the failure and try it again is a travesty.”

Follow these steps to ensure successful product development.

1. Build the right budget.

Launching a new product might never happen without a reasonable budget at the outset of the project. Underfunded projects rarely make it to the launch phase, and overfunded projects can result in wasted time and money, Sherman says. Owners need to figure out the total costs related to a new product, set a realistic budget, and hold team members accountable for meeting those numbers. While numbers vary based on industry and company size, it’s not uncommon to allocate 20 to 30 percent of a company’s budget to new product development, Sherman says.

2. Focus on markets.

For a product launch to be successful, owners should avoid “inventor syndrome” and focus on creating products and services customers want, Sherman says.

“What we have to avoid is entrepreneurs and small business owners who are looking for that invention to be their legacy instead of worrying about whether the invention is something customers want, need and will pay for,” he says.

3. Invite collaboration.

Collaborative environments can lead to more successful product launches. The group responsible for putting together the launch should elicit feedback from salespeople or distributors, as well as potential customers, to find ways to improve key elements of the launch. Such elements could include the pricing and positioning of the product.

4. Eliminate wasted time.

Sherman emphasizes the discipline owners must implement throughout the product launch. Those planning the launch should identify its key steps and indicate the stakeholders responsible for carrying out those steps. Steps in the launch-planning process include compiling a realistic budget, collaborating with individuals at all levels of the company and evaluating risk.

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Why use a Business Consultant?


15126608-young-businessman-talking-over-cell-phone-on-isolated-white-background-smilingBusinesses today use consultants more and more for a variety of reasons. The main reason is that every business will at some time come to crossroads and will not always be sure which direction to take.
Even though a person has been running a business for many years there always comes a time of uncertainty, caused by a decline in the business, or difficulties due to the economic climate.
Sometimes we all get a period in our life when we are drained of inspiration and new ideas and this is the time when an external consultant can be of great value.
Another reason for using a consultant is to get confirmation that what you are doing in your business is correct. This is a worthwhile exercise as it gives you renewed confidence in yourself and the knowledge that you are still doing a good job.
What a business consultant does is take a detailed look at a business without having the passion that often causes business blindness especially when harsh decisions are needed.
A simple analogy: how easy it is to tell another person their child is doing wrong when you can see no fault in your own child!
If you choose a business consultant who has experience in the business issues that concern you most then his advice should be helpful and put you in the right direction. Other types of consultants may be specialists in a particular industry, or in one particular aspect of a business.
Then there are general business consultants who have run a business and their knowledge differs because they know exactly what you’re going through, having been through the problems themselves when they were in business.
I have started, operated and sold many businesses in different industries. To me there is no difference in running a business irrespective of the industry as everyone has the same objective, to make money.
Business consultancy has grown rapidly over the years simply because they are providing a reality check, similar to having an annual health checkup to see that everything is working correctly.
Having a consultant look at your business is a worthwhile exercise; it is the checks and balances that every business should do from time to time.
Another way of using a business consultant is as a mentor. Many companies, after having an initial consultation period, use the consultant on a monthly basis either by an office visit, Skype, or telephone. Some even go further by making the consultant the chairman of the business so that he can give direction, not only to senior management but to the staff and overall business in all its operations.
Consultants bring with them not only their own business experience but the additional experience they gain on a regular basis from other companies they advise.
Using a business consultant is clearly a win – win situation for everyone.


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