Discover more from The Founder Thesis Podcast | Learn from disruptive founders
Building the B2C communication stack | Exotel
Disrupting and bringing about massive change takes time, but sometimes it happens all at once - Exotel is a shining example of that!
Starting as a pioneer in SME SaaS in India in 2011, Exotel later pivoted to focus on enterprise API SaaS products.
It wasn't always smooth sailing, though - the company struggled to raise funds from investors until 2020.
But here's where the story gets interesting: in the post-pandemic world, Exotel suddenly raised over 90 million dollars and even acquired two companies!
Shivakumar Ganesan, the mastermind behind Exotel shares his rollercoaster journey of building this startup. He speaks about market sizing, finding product market fit, fundraising and lots more!
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[00:00:00] Shivakumar: Hi you all listeners of Founder Thesis. My name is Shivakumar Ganesan. That's a long name. So, people mostly call me Shivku.
[00:00:07] I'm the co-founder and CEO at Exotel India's largest customer engagement platform. Looking backwards, it does look like I was destined to become an entrepreneur. So many of my friends wrote GRE and GMAT and I did not. And something blocked me from doing that. I think I quite like the idea of working in a place and building something and trying to take it to the market and things like that.
[00:00:34] Akshay: This was while you were at BITS, Pilani probably when you were like graduating?
[00:00:39] Shivakumar: No, actually this was after I joined Yahoo and after about a couple of years of working there, which is my first job so Yahoo also paid me more than what I thought I needed. I had, I don't know, two years of runway at that point in time.
[00:00:56] And I thought, what's the worst that can happen? And I wasn't [00:01:00] really interested in doing GRE and GMAT and I had lots of points of view on how products need to be built. I think the exposure that I got at Yahoo was also incredible. At that time when starting up was not a thing when most people wouldn't even know what startups are because of my experience at Yahoo I used to listen to podcasts from the Valley, read the blogs like Techunsion, and I think in those days there was GigaOm and then whatnot.
[00:01:29] Follow the fight between Google and Yahoo on search.
[00:01:36] The technology world, the ability that a bunch of people can come together and write some code and change the world. Of course, Steve Jobs was still alive at that point in time, so he was a great yeah. All those books and whatever. And I think that's really how I got started with my entrepreneurial journey.
[00:01:51] It does look like after about two years of working, somehow, I just knew that I was gonna start. It was just a matter of time.
[00:01:59] Akshay: [00:02:00] Okay. Got it. So, tell me about that journey into entrepreneurship, like from Yahoo.
[00:02:05] Shivakumar: See, I think it was mostly that I had a number of things to say and I had a point of view about the world and when I used to go and talk to people, they used to mostly shoot it down, if you will. And somehow, I wasn't able to take back for an answer.
[00:02:20] And then something kept telling me that I should pursue, I should continue on with my thought. Maybe I just wanted to prove to myself whether I am right or wrong. Maybe I just wanted to find it out on my own. But that was really how it all got started. So, when I was at Yahoo, I used to read these blogs and articles and books.
[00:02:36] And then every quarter I'll have a new idea and then I'll pull somebody over and then I'll pitch the idea to them. And then mostly they'll, if they're nice people, they'll just say, okay, let's catch up later and then move, if they are direct people, they'll mostly say it's a stupid idea but that just kept on repeating in my life for a very long time.
[00:02:54] And then, after about five years, I got some awards, this, that, and then, so at that [00:03:00] point in time I was like, hey, it's about time we tried something. So, I actually quit Yahoo with my colleague. To start off, my original idea was to build a cheap navigation device for India.
[00:03:12] Akshay: Because you had worked on Yahoo Maps, so context.
[00:03:16] Shivakumar: Yeah, I knew a lot about the tech and naturally there was no maps at that point in time for India. And so that was what I got started with. Of course, it never really materialized. I think the partner who came out with me eventually ended up becoming an IAS and he seems to be enjoying that.
[00:03:30] So he was maybe never out to be an entrepreneur. I actually ended up joining Flipkart. They were actually a couple of blocks away from my house, so I used to hang out with them. And then I spent about six, seven months there, but they were doing really well. But somehow my itch to start something on my own never really stopped.
[00:03:47] So I actually quit Flipkart even though they were doing really well. I was in the right place at the right time. I had a good amount of stake and whatnot. But so, then I again, started from scratch started a [00:04:00] classified marketplace type business where I think if I continued on whether it would've become something like OLX or Quicker today.
[00:04:08] And then to enable the marketplace, I had to come up with some phone number enability for people to sell, send SMS and make phone calls. And it was like a medium agnostic classified business. And so, it was a tool either went and spoke to a bunch of telcos, this, that, and then put together a tool. That tool actually has what now become Exotel
[00:04:30] Akshay: okay. And at this time, knowlarity was also there. You didn't wanna like just take knowlarity off the shelf.
[00:04:36] Shivakumar: So yeah, it was a very strange coincidence. I didn't know when I started writing the basic code for Exotel, there was no knowlarity yet. When I was weeks away from launching the product, somebody actually sent me the link saying, hey, check out knowlarity
[00:04:52] So if I had six months earlier, maybe I would've been would.
[00:04:59] Akshay: Wow. [00:05:00]
[00:05:00] funny. Yeah! the way life moulds us. Okay. What made you take the call to shut down the classified business? Why did you go all in on the telecom product? And not the classifieds.
[00:05:13] Shivakumar: It appeared as though we'd be able to make more money with this than that. So, the classified business, I was running it for about a year and three months.
[00:05:22] And then it was mostly I was driving towards traffic and increasing engagement. And, here, little bit here, there some, I think on overall I would've made some 40,000 rupees for the business. So, there was no actually meaning over a year monetization way yet. Because I had to wait for the critical master to build in.
[00:05:40] Whereas here people were willing to pay 500 rupees a seat and from the get go. And so, I was quite attracted by the, maybe at the back of my mind. I also knew that I was running outta my runway. I was like, hey, someone's saying they'll pay for this, so let's just focus on this and get going.
[00:05:55] And so that's how I think I pivoted away. I shut that thing down. Started focusing for a [00:06:00] year.
[00:06:01] Akshay: What was your go-to market for Exotel like! you had no sales and marketing experience. How did you figure that piece
[00:06:08] Shivakumar: out? Initially, it was mostly my network. As I told you, I was hanging around with the, all the startup enthusiasts for years before I actually started almost maybe four, five years.
[00:06:19] And so I knew almost everyone. So, I knew Bhavish from Ola. I knew The Bansals from Flipkart. So, all the guys who were actually at that point in time starting up who were a part of the, I knew Shashank from Practo. So those were my initial customers. So, I went and pitched the idea to them and sometimes even forced them to buy, utilize by its social capital little bit sort into
[00:06:42] Entire first 15-20 customer were all themselves startups. That was my initial GTM strategy was to use my own personal network.
[00:06:53] Akshay: And what was the problem that Exotel was solving for like what was the solution or the
[00:06:57] Shivakumar: product. At that [00:07:00] point in time we used to call it one number for your business. So, we said that everybody needs a website and a number and so may that number be Exotel's number, and then we'll enable both SMS.
[00:07:12] There was no WhatsApp yet. So, we'll enable both SMS and phone calls and then, so you can now receive incoming calls for support. You can make outbound calls to sell your product. You can put this number on your listing card on your website, and then you can quickly set up IVR, this, that. So that was what was the original
[00:07:30] Akshay: Okay okay. Got it. Got it. Okay. So, from this like this one number for your business product how did you reach to where you are today? And what I'd like to hear also is in multiple facets, so far you were bootstrapping it, right? So, you would've realized at some point of time that you need funds to grow further and to really scale it up. Could you tell me about that?
[00:07:52] Shivakumar: So, step number one, once I knew that a few customers were about to buy, I got my co-founders in again, I tapped into my [00:08:00] network.
[00:08:00] One is my college friend; one is my ex-colleague and one is my college junior. Then we started building, and between the four of us, obviously we knew how to build right code. And one of them was also coming from he was a part of the National Entrepreneurship Network.
[00:08:15] So he also, again, had a marketing type, at least startup marketing type experience. And so, we quickly sold to about 50, 75 customers. Then we raised a little bit of money from Mumbai Angels and Bloom. At that point in time even for two and a half crores, it seemed like a big deal. And then we actually even did a party.
[00:08:32] We called everybody home. And so, was it easy raising that first round? First round was easy. In fact, I had the term sheets and in fact so there was actually a Shark tank before the Shark Tank. So, it was running in ET now. So, I forget what it was called.
[00:08:50] Akshay: Young Turks or something?
[00:08:51] Shivakumar: No, before that. Super Angel. Okay. Okay. So, I was a part of that and we actually technically raise the money on tv.
[00:08:58] Akshay: Oh. Wow. Okay. [00:09:00] Amazing. Okay. Okay.
[00:09:01] Shivakumar: Up until this point we were still hot property and then
[00:09:06] Akshay: Why were you hot property from like a macro perspective, help me understand was there like a cloud telephony as a sector which made you hot property or was it like the founding team was very impressive?
[00:09:16] Or was it like you had great traction?
[00:09:20] Shivakumar: Both. See, I think in general, timing is very important in starting businesses. So there was a time for starting cloud telephony businesses and that time was maybe five, six years ago. And then there are, for example, many companies may have started drone businesses.
[00:09:36] There was a time to start a drone business. But because of regulations, et cetera, in India, for example, unfortunately that story didn't really pan out. So
[00:09:44] Akshay: now is the time for EV businesses.
[00:09:46] Shivakumar: Now is the time for EV business. I dunno, maybe something in metaverse, whatnot. So Bitcoin used to be, I think three, four years ago.
[00:09:53] So there's always a timing issue and people always start businesses congregated around those waves or [00:10:00] patterns that seem to be emerging from the market. At that point in time there wasn't see this is good. By the way. 2010, 2011 is also a very different time. So there was no smartphone yet.
[00:10:09] I think round about this time, when we raised our first round is when I think WhatsApp, I just heard about WhatsApp and I think about six months earlier, Steve Jobs demonstrated as iPhone three. Ok. Okay. So we're still at very early stages. So there wasn't really any, anything to build in technology other than website and communication systems.
[00:10:28] So those are really the only things that we may now call as B2B, SaaS.
[00:10:35] Akshay: Okay. Got it. Okay. Yeah, continuing with the journey. So you raised about two and a half crores, you said from that money, the TV.
[00:10:42] Shivakumar: TV show. And then we could scale that up to maybe about 300, 350 and small and medium companies.
[00:10:48] It was supposed to be DIY, inbound content marketing driven. And these are all unheard of at that point in time, by the way. So we were like, literally we were probably doing more inbound [00:11:00] lease than anybody else in the country at that point in time. We didn't really have heat on the street.
[00:11:04] So we were trying to build a classical SaaS company from India for India. So this is not even like the fresh, right? So this is actually India for India, but that didn't really play out and for good reasons. So
[00:11:18] Akshay: DIY didn't work at that time, right? Like the customers would not have been savvy enough to use a DIY service?
[00:11:26] Shivakumar: That's correct. So see, most of the TAM at that point in time were still startups. And then obviously those guys loved it. But I don't think people beyond the startups were really interested in or knew about DIY or what SAAS is and how to buy it and things like that. Secondly, I don't think SMB India was a large enough market.
[00:11:44] So I think even my pitch was slightly flawed from the get-go. There was no way I could have built a billion-dollar business using the pitch that at least I showcased to people at that point in time. So people were like, hey, this is all fine, but can you tell me how we're gonna cross above 50 crores of revenue?
[00:11:58] 100 crores of revenue? [00:12:00] So I didn't really have an idea. So naturally example
[00:12:04] Akshay: pitch was that millions of like mom and pop shops, like a coaching centre or a boutique or a beauty parlour who would sign up for this number. That was a,
[00:12:15] Shivakumar: that is okay. That is a vision. I think it was too early. The market was definitely shallow.
[00:12:21] I think we could have sold maybe 500 rupees a pop, but that was more like SOHO, small office, home office very small. It's fine, but it's not going to be a meaningfully large business. So that was our mistake. So I had a failed series A attempt. Then a couple of years, one year after that we pivoted into enterprise.
[00:12:40] So we started selling the API platform, which we always had. And so then Ola adopted us, then Uber adopted us and then somehow, we discovered what we internally call as the last Mile Connect market. So we became the backbone through which drivers and passengers, teachers and students, doctors and patients, [00:13:00] buyers and sellers.
[00:13:00] All of these people started talking to each other through the cloud. And so it was a accidental market that we ended up in. Because we always had the API platform, it wasn't even like we were trying to build anything new. We always had it. So we had to just expose it and people started using it.
[00:13:14] And just,
[00:13:15] Akshay: what exactly is this product you're talking about?
[00:13:18] Shivakumar: It's what you know Exotel for number masking. So a call comes from your Uber driver, it comes from a landline number and things like that, right? So you try to call a seller in just dial the number that you see there is not the number of the person whom you're actually dialling.
[00:13:32] So people are using it for protecting privacy for tracking the calls, for call recording, for compliance, a whole bunch of things. Quality assurance. So that really took off. I used to joke that there was a point in time when we used to make more money off of an OLA ride than OLA itself, so on an average 2 and a half calls per ride, we were actually making about two rupees per OLA ride.
[00:13:59] So [00:14:00] of course all of that is now history, but so I'm happy to share that. Apart from venture capitalists and maybe companies like GoDaddy and folks like this, Exotel actually is the unsung hero of the Indian startup ecosystem. So we've actually powered practically any startup that you can now think of.
[00:14:17] And I'm very happy to share with you that to you and all the listeners, you're all, we're all customers and users and beneficiaries of Exotel services. So we've actually touched, if I'm not wrong, close to about little less than 20% of the of India's population today. So that's I don't know, 253 million people have used Exotel services so far.
[00:14:36] So that's quite massive. Wow. Amazing.
[00:14:38] Akshay: So every time you order food from, like Zomato or Swiggi and that, that call transaction or like looking for businesses on Just Dial that transaction and all over, of course all of these are like where Exotel is working in the backend. Correct! That's absolutely right.
[00:14:54] And what kind of revenues did you do then, like once you discovered that this API business [00:15:00] enterprise clients?
[00:15:02] Shivakumar: So I think we took it all the way to about 75 crores types top line actually. Which year was that? This must be 2018. 2017-2018. Ok, so we were just going about, and by the way, there was actually one more attempt to raise funds.
[00:15:18] And because this was obviously growing quite well. And so again, I went and pitched, but again, I wasn't really able to showcase how we are going to build a billion-dollar business because mostly people will be like, what after number marking? What after click to call, right?
[00:15:31] So then I wasn't really able to paint a large picture. And so that also again ended up becoming a failed attempt.
[00:15:38] Akshay: The click to call was what? Like you could enter your number on a website and do click to call, and then a call would come to you and come, go to the business and connect both of you.
[00:15:46] Something like that.
[00:15:47] Shivakumar: That's the most basic version. But when I talk about click to call, more let's say you have a relationship manager at ICICI. And let's say he wants to now get in touch with you. He's not at scene. People no [00:16:00] longer go to office, right? So there is no an Avaya phone or whatever it is that people used to have.
[00:16:04] So they actually click on the CRM somewhere and then using that they actually talk to you. So it becomes like the virtual call system for employee company.
[00:16:14] Akshay: Okay. Okay. Okay. Okay. Like a cloud that CPaaS is what this is called, right?
[00:16:17] Shivakumar: So CPaaS I don't know, maybe you can call this cloud pbx.
[00:16:21] You can call this cloud phone system. A CPaaS is a generic term that communication platform as a service is a genetic term that we use to describe the overarching infrastructure on the platform. Using which applications like this can be built. Okay.
[00:16:36] Akshay: Okay. Okay. Got it. Okay. Okay. So yeah, that fundraiser then didn't happen.
[00:16:40] Like even at 75 crores top line you were struggling to raise funds. It's like was it the valuation also that you were expecting a higher valuation or
[00:16:50] Shivakumar: No, I just think it's, I don't think I was able to demonstrate to people clearly enough as to how large this can be [00:17:00] this can become, so I used to always go and tell people this is what we are doing.
[00:17:04] But I think most investors are looking forward to understanding how big can this become? And maybe I wasn't able to, maybe I wasn't able to visualize it myself. And I don't think I was certainly, I was not able to help them visualize it. So people always looked at Exotel as a good technology, profitable business.
[00:17:21] Which makes a little bit of money. I'm sure they can make hundred crores, 150 crores, 200 crores type top line. But after that, so I think that's the way, and mostly I think people thought of it as a small
[00:17:32] Akshay: Okay. Okay. Because the like WhatsApp, et cetera, are in a way substituting that what used to happen through regular telephone calls.
[00:17:42] Shivakumar: Correct. Unfortunately in my case, WhatsApp ended up becoming argument point against our business because most people would then at that point then used to say that, WhatsApp will take away your business, people will move to digital channels. All of that of course is happening. But I think what truly changed the game was covid.
[00:17:59] And I'll [00:18:00] tell you why that got me, what got me and everybody else excited. So let's say, let's take an example. So let's say you want to give your car for servicing. Four years ago, you will take the car to the service station in the morning. Tell them what your problem is. Take an auto, go to the office, come back in the evening pick up the car and come home.
[00:18:17] Correct. So this is what you used, but as now there is a CRM integration, there is a phone call or a WhatsApp message that comes and says, hey, it's time for you to send the car for servicing. Then you say, okay, or whatever. Then there's a guy who comes and then picks the car up and goes back. Then the advisor actually does a video call with you to show the scratches or speedometer or whatever it is that he's going to do.
[00:18:40] Then he sends a job card on WhatsApp. Maybe you make the payment on WhatsApp. And then, in the evening the car comes. So what used to be a zero-technology business transaction has now ended up becoming a few WhatsApps. One video call one CRM integration, one chat bot. And so this is the big deal, right?
[00:18:58] So the, we [00:19:00] are now at the cusp of converting the world. So that's the big deal, right? So we now are sitting at the possibility of powering practically every business transaction that's going to now happen in the world, and almost all of them is going to be a hybrid of remote and in person going forward.
[00:19:18] We all know that it's because of Covid and the fact that people are habituated into buying remotely now. So there's no going back. And I think this is really what gets me excited. I, now, earlier I used to think of Exotel as the backbone of the startup ecosystem. Now I think of Exotel as the backbone of every ecosystem every company, every business transaction that can potentially happen.
[00:19:36] All of them involves some SMS reminders, some WhatsApp something, some phone call somewhere, some chat bot, some integration. So I think that's the exciting part, and. I saw this I think investors were able to see it and our numbers were also showing it. And I think that's really what lifted our business from what looked like hey, they'll get to 200 crores and then it'll be a lifestyle business to [00:20:00] hey, this can actually be a potentially a couple of billion-dollar top line revenue company and go public in India,
[00:20:05] Akshay: wow. Amazing. Tell me the journey of how you figured this out. You got that second time rejection when you tried to raise funds in 2019 how did that lead to you discovering this new product market fit and this pivot which took place?
[00:20:20] Shivakumar: We didn't really actually discover much.
[00:20:22] I think, see we've just, before Covid, we were actually going to banks and then we were trying to sell our virtual relationship manager solution, which is what I guess to you, how do we now get. Stock brokers and relationship managers, how do we now get one-on-one interaction going between them and the customers?
[00:20:40] Now, everybody liked it. They wanted to buy it, but there was no there was no impetus for them to adopt it right here, right now. So these used to be long conversation. Then we slowly, we were making headways and I think that's how life would've gone. But
[00:20:55] Akshay: Actual relationship manager was like a chatbot based solution.
[00:20:59] Like [00:21:00] you could start chatting on your ICICI bank app, for example, that what is my balance? And it would fetch that through a system integration. And if you wanted to talk to a human being there, it would enable that conversation also. Like something like that, or like
[00:21:13] Shivakumar: something like that.
[00:21:14] But we weren't doing chat yet. So this was still the phone number using, which you can call your relationship manager in HDFC Bank. That guy can now call you back on the same number, but this is actually not a real phone. So this is actually a virtual number. And you call, it'll go to his cell phone.
[00:21:30] He'll call, it'll come to your cell phone. So it's still an extension of the original demo marking type idea that we had. Yeah. But different use case in a different a industry.
[00:21:40] Akshay: It solves the problem of attrition, like your relationship manager moved on. Like in my case I still have numbers of like relationship managers.
[00:21:48] I had two, three years back on my phone. So it's solve that problem because now that number doesn't change, A new person can come in and Correct. Okay. Okay. Got it.
[00:21:57] Shivakumar: So this was how we were going to get into [00:22:00] BFSI, and it was gonna happen very slowly. It just happens that overnight everybody had to go remote and once they lost access to that phone in the desk, then every BFSI company wanted to now adopt this, right?
[00:22:12] And if you think about it, BFSI is about 40% of Nifty. So that's the single largest market for most software companies in India. So suddenly we had like too many leads and we couldn't pursue. And then it was a very busy covid time for us. And then of course there was also covid helpline numbers and lots of requirements actually.
[00:22:29] Because everything was remote. So that's really what took off. So this is the reason why zoom took off. This is the reason why Twilio took off in the US. It's the same reason why we took off many other communication companies also, took off Route mobile took off. So I think it was it was a moment in time where everybody suddenly saw the power of what these communication systems, this engagement technology can do.
[00:22:51] And I think it really just sort of took off. And we were right there at the right time and it was just hard to miss. So there was nothing really for us to do. We had to just ensure that we executed well. [00:23:00]
[00:23:00] Akshay: Amazing. Okay. And what did you do as your top line then from the 75 crores? What did that become?
[00:23:05] Shivakumar: It, I think we, last year we ended up, so the platform business ended at about two hundred crores of top line.
[00:23:11] And we also ended up acquiring two other businesses. There was the contact centre business of Ameyo, which was also doing about 100 crores of top line. And we also acquired AI company. And then now we are in the process of putting it all together. So we'll end up with about, I dunno, 60-million-dollar type ARR.
[00:23:27] So ending in the, of course dollar rupee is fluctuating too much, I dunno where we stand right now. But somewhere in the 60 million type ARR now.
[00:23:37] Akshay: How did this so this is still like a virtual number service, which started selling like hotcake cake. How did that expand into what you explained to me?
[00:23:46] Something which powers every interaction with a customer for a business?
[00:23:51] Shivakumar: So I think it was mostly. This is a place where I think that I was also did my bit. So it was not like we were just sitting there watching the wave play. We were actually talking [00:24:00] about, see if you think about a contact centre is the single largest use case on the CPaaS platform.
[00:24:05] And we had the platform, we had all the APIs. We didn't really have the ability to actually sit and build out the contact centre. Hey I went and told them, hey, you know what, if we join hands and, let's bring emerging markets first Cloud contact centre. And so that was the thesis.
[00:24:21] Originally, I attempted to do that purely on an equity basis, so we were trying to see if we can do like a stock swap, but unfortunately these kinds of deals don't happen without cash on the table.
[00:24:31] Akshay: Because Ameyo had also investors on the cap level, like they address.
[00:24:35] Shivakumar: Absolutely. So then I had to wait for my first round from A91 to happen.
[00:24:40] And then basis that then I went back and they were actually talking to somebody else for an acquisition. Somehow, I went in and then pulled the deal out of the lion's mouth and so he was very exhilarating. Quite exciting times. On one side we were all pissed about Covid itself, but I was actually doing the work of my life during Covid.
[00:24:59] So there [00:25:00] was one year in which I had raised. Just in one calendar year, I raised four rounds and did two acquisitions all in a span of 12 months. So we were announcing around every quarter.
[00:25:12] Akshay: Wow. Amazing. This was like, the first round you did was about five and a half million, then 16 million. And then there is a small 1 million round, which is probably an extension and then a 35 million C and then a 40 million Series D.
[00:25:27] Correct. Wow. Incredible. And this was on the back of two things. I guess one would be the trending revenue numbers because you are like the platform code platform was selling like hot cakes. And second was this new vision which you had of building a overarching platform to power all customer communication for which you wanted to acquire.
[00:25:51] Shivakumar: So I figured that so there was the one key observation was that okay, so I've always had the vision of bringing a pure cloud contact [00:26:00] centre, seamless, easy to use, good to use cloud contact centre for emerging markets right from the get-go, because that's how it happens in the US And I'm like, how come it's not happening in emerging markets, right?
[00:26:09] Someone's gonna solve it. So that vision was always there. But the key observation was that the largest segment, which is a BFSA segment now, has started adopting cloud and AI in a big way since Covid. And that was a big motivation for us. And we also saw that people wanted to buy more and more channels and products from the same vendor so that they actually have only one person to deal with.
[00:26:32] And that was the motivation behind the full stack customer engagement platform, which is to say that we will help you handle all the channels. We will also in fact, have the applications that are built on top of these channels. And we'd be able to also ensure that we have, we keep all the data in the same place so that you're able to now understand your first party data a lot better, right?
[00:26:51] You make a call from the call centre, you'll be able to use the API to download it, and you can use it to train the chat bot so that it responds better the next time sort of thing, right? [00:27:00] So that, I think that integrated suite of products, I think customers, at least we saw that customers wanted something like that.
[00:27:07] So that was in observation and and so to by bringing Exotel Cogno together. So we now converted what was a customer communication platform into a full stack customer engagement platform.
[00:27:21] Akshay: What does Ameyo and Cogno
[00:27:22] add? What are their, what
[00:27:24] is the Ameyo product?
[00:27:25] Shivakumar: Ameyo is a contact centre product.
[00:27:28] They were well known for building they were, I think maybe the third largest contact centre software provider in India and in emerging markets. So by acquiring them and then by,
[00:27:37] Akshay: And what is, what does a contact centre software look like? Can you just describe what it does? Like
[00:27:43] Shivakumar: nothing. Every time you call and call some let's say Amazon for some query, it's going to that contact centre.
[00:27:48] Let's say somebody's calling you and saying, hey, it's time for you to make your credit card payment that's coming from a contact centre. So these are all contact centre,
[00:27:55] Akshay: but you were already doing this, right? The single number for a business is the same thing. Like [00:28:00] how is it different from what you were already doing?
[00:28:02] Shivakumar: So this is enterprise grade. So ours was more like customer communication management, SMB SaaS product that was on one side. And then we also had the APIs, which were not really anything. They were this API. So you can build anything that you want, but you'll still have to build it from scratch.
[00:28:18] But this is actually True-Blue Enterprise contact Centre. So it'll have features like skills-based routing, predictive dialler, workforce optimization. So some competing products in the US will be five nine eight by eight ring Centre in India. There's also Dell in India. So this is actually a segment on its own.
[00:28:36] With a specific software for that need. So the contact centre then happens to be the largest use case of a CPaaS platform. So that was the funda behind getting Ameyo and then making it work with the Exotel Cloud so that we now have an integrated suite where the software is still Ameyo, but the backend, the network the SMS, the WhatsApp, everything is powered by the CPaaS platform [00:29:00]
[00:29:01] Akshay: and SMS and WhatsApp also was added by Ameyo, or you built that in-house like the SMS, WhatsApp Capabilities.
[00:29:08] Shivakumar: SMS was originally in the erstwhile Exotel. Ameyo had the WhatsApp what should I say, partner account. And then we ended up building the APIs around it, so they had application on it. So we ended up extending that and converting it into APIs. And then now we're expanding to other channels I dunno, hopefully we'll add Instagram and this and that and whatnot.
[00:29:28] Akshay: Okay. Instagram from a messaging perspective, like to send dms to customers.
[00:29:34] Shivakumar: That's right. To respond to customer queries, support queries to send, we may even include things like push notifications, emails, so these are all other more and more channels so API is for doing all of these things.
[00:29:46] Akshay: Okay. Okay. And what does Cogno act like why did you acquire Cogno?
[00:29:51] Shivakumar: Cogno is a leader in chatbot in BFSI. As the world is moving towards a couple of things. One is more and more [00:30:00] chat-based communication systems are coming in the place of voice-based systems. People don't want to call up contact centre numbers anymore, so they just wanna send a chat message.
[00:30:09] And then they want it to be asynchronous. So you can reply back whenever you have time and I'll live with my life, live on with my life. And now that once it is chat on the other side you could now potentially hook up a bot. So that can hopefully handle simple queries. So it's a win-win for everyone.
[00:30:25] It's a win for the customer because you get instantaneous response. It's a win for the enterprise because it reduces cost. So pretty much any chat bot that you encounter in any banks. There is a very high chance that it is actually a Cogno bot. So then our endeavour is to now bring in these AI capabilities into our enterprise contact centre product and then bring in the cloud capabilities.
[00:30:49] And then, so now we will have a world class contact centre product that pretty much has anything that you can think of, right? Multi-channel AI enabled cloud highly [00:31:00] scalable, reliable that would be I think that would be a winner.
[00:31:04] Akshay: I want to understand the AI enabled tag. I think a lot of businesses use this tag very casually of AI enabled.
[00:31:10] What are the things which AI is which you are using AI for? What is the way in which it is adding value to the customer?
[00:31:18] Shivakumar: So there are a few things that our AI can do. So you can now point it to FAQs, to your website to your internal knowledge management system, and then it'll now scrape all of those details and then it'll now try to build some topics and then you can hook it up to a WhatsApp number or you can put a chat window on the website.
[00:31:37] So when somebody comes in and then they opens and says, I want to know more about how you all disperse personal loans. So then the chat bot already knows the answer, so it'll now respond back with here's what I know about the thing. Would you like to have more information? If so, send me a yes and I will connect you to an agent.
[00:31:56] Ok. So that's what, so the bot right now is [00:32:00] mostly a services queries bot that's one. The bot we've also now hooked up a voice component to the same NLU infrastructure, so technically very soon. And we actually have a few POCs running already. You could now also hook it up to a number.
[00:32:15] So if you call in and then like how the picture gave this demonstration of interactive, I think they call it IVA, interactive voice agent. Maybe nothing as dramatic as that, but something simple enough, we'll be able to deploy, especially it'll be useful for outbound. So there's specific intent with which the bot will call you.
[00:32:31] It might now tell you, hey, it's time for you to make the payment. So those kinds of things right now, they'll be like pre-recorded conversations, IVR calls, which is not fun. Now can we humanize that a little bit more and can we now make it more personalized so it can do that. Soon enough hopefully we'll be able to now get the bot to analyse the calls, and then it can now tell you the sentiment or whether the call was a good call or a bad call.
[00:32:54] So it'll, it can now provide insights and analytics around conversations. Maybe it could even [00:33:00] suggest to the agent somebody's ordering a gift, it can now say, hey, it's time for you to upsell a gift wrap. And then maybe the agent can say, hey, do you want to also gift wrap the package? So it could be assisting the agents to doing their job better.
[00:33:13] So those are also other features and functionalities, that our bots can do.
[00:33:17] Akshay: Okay. And what about the the act of raising funds? Is there advice you can share on that?
[00:33:22] In terms of what is the way to reach out and what is the way to build credibility and what kind of investors to target and so on and so forth? And
[00:33:33] Shivakumar: I think in this case, I think it'll be dependent on a person's style. But I'll tell you what I did. So I actually always said things at it as it is.
[00:33:41] And so that's actually both my Boone and Bein. So I never used to hype things up, nor did I ever paint a bleak picture. So I used to try to always paint the right picture. And I think that essentially increased credibility. So even today, many people may not have funded me, but they're always, they'll always pick up the call if I call them. [00:34:00]
[00:34:00] And they'd like to know what is it that I'm off to? Ok. So I think that really worked. Second is I think you should think of fundraising as a journey rather than an event. So I actually kept in touch with people even when I was not trying to raise funds. I used to generally catch up with people.
[00:34:15] I'll tell them, give them updates and build relationships. And I think people like to see that you are around and you are interested and you are persistent, and you're going to build no matter what against all odds. And so I think that also happened. So you know, from A91, I've actually known Gautam for like over a decade.
[00:34:33] And he has seen me build a company from zero to everything. So there's a lot of credibility and trust that gets built to, so he knows that I'm not going anywhere and I'm, if it is possible to win, I'm gonna be here. I'm gonna try to win. Ok. So I think these are two thoughts I'd like to leave.
[00:34:49] People also try to convince investors to invest, which is, I think, the wrong way to go about it. I usually think that one must ask oneself [00:35:00] what is a substantial sum of money? So let's say for you, maybe 20 lakhs is a substantial sum of money. Now I'd like for you to write a business plan, and I'd like to ask you, would you put 20 lakhs of your money into this plan?
[00:35:15] right? So it needs to pass the you being an investor in your own company test first. And then once people start to think of it that way, then it's no longer about convincing the investors, it's actually about building a business and then raising money becomes a part of that. So these are all very basic things that first time entrepreneurs actually make these mistakes.
[00:35:34] But once you gain, experience, then you realize that raising funds is not the end game, right? It's just a part of another end game. The other end game, the primary objective here is to build a business.
[00:35:44] Akshay: Amazing. Okay, is there a risk of you losing your frugality? And this frugality is an assumption I'm making.
[00:35:52] Considering that you were not able to raise funds for the first seven, eight years, you must have by force being a very [00:36:00] frugal organization. And so do you see a risk of that changing?
[00:36:04] Shivakumar: Not only is that a risk of that changing, in fact it has already happened. So we've actually taken three profit making companies and we've converted into one massive loss-making company.
[00:36:13] go back to, that's exactly what we're doing. And that's ok. See, look, I think when you have the money and if you don't spend, then what's the point, right? So certainly make experiments, do experiments, make some bets and that's what we try to do. And some of them will not. But ultimately, you'll still learn and the hard wiring on I won't say frugality as much as sustainability.
[00:36:34] Actually I wouldn't even say that. So ultimately the, see, the whole, the objective of company is to make profits for the shareholders, right? So that's the stated goal of the institutions. So it, there is no, at least in my mind, I'm not convincing that. So the, ultimately the question that I'm asking is how do we add value to customers and how do we make money for shareholders?
[00:36:53] Those are the only two questions that matter. Everything else is bullshit.
[00:36:57] Akshay: Okay. Okay. I want to understand a bit [00:37:00] about your pricing journey. And what you must have had to relearn pricing also when you moved from SMEs to enterprise customers. Tell me about that. Like how did you figure out pricing for the SMEs, and then how did you again, figure out pricing for enterprise customers?
[00:37:16] Shivakumar: So when we started, I think it was all over the place because there weren't too many competitors. And so we did whatever we did. But I think as the industry matures and as there are more competitors who come in frankly there's not much you can do about it. So the access of pricing will be well established in the market.
[00:37:35] So for example, you have to sell SMS on a per SMS basis. You can't do anything else. You have to sell a contact centre on a per seat basis. So these are all established practices. So the access of pricing is interesting. Only when you're launching something new. For example in the case of bots one could now say, can we just charge them per month overall?
[00:37:56] Can we charge them on a per conversation basis? So we are doing some [00:38:00] experiments like that. So I think the first way to think about pricing is what is the access of pricing? And as entrepreneurs, our goal is to ensure that. The access of pricing is different from the access of cost. So if you are now purchasing something at something, and then you are adding a little bit of masala, you're selling it at the same access of pricing, then there isn't, it becomes a cost-plus model.
[00:38:24] And the company begins to think in the cost-plus way, and then margins ultimately will be squeezed one way or the other because people will now ask questions about how much value you are actually adding to the masala that you're adding, right? So instead my recommendation for everybody would be to ensure that your input cost is on a access of pricing that is different from the access of pricing of your output or the sale price.
[00:38:46] So that will ensure that there is better margins and then there is better sustainability. Yeah.
[00:38:51] Akshay: Can you give some examples on this?
[00:38:54] Shivakumar: I think. Okay. In my, of course, I'll give you my industry example. There's a company called Attentive in the [00:39:00] US which actually purchases SMSs from CPaaS companies of course on a per SMS basis.
[00:39:05] But they actually charge the end user on as a percentage of the GMV that is generated because of their SMS marketing, right? So they're actually saying, don't care about how many SMSs that I spent, but I'm gonna now track how much GMV I brought to you. And then you give a share on the GMV.
[00:39:22] Akshay: Wow.
[00:39:23] Amazing. Okay. Which would create an incentive within the organization also to that masala, which you put in you need to make sure that it is, part of it is also reducing the amount of input you need to achieve the same output. Can you get that same GMV increase in lesser number of SMSs, thereby increasing your margin.
[00:39:41] Your ability to increase your margin is much more in your hands as opposed to a cost-plus model where your customer also knows it's cost plus. He also probably knows that, and especially with enterprise customers, they will already be aware that this is the cost, that this is what your margin is.
[00:39:55] And so that constant pressure to reduce your margin, you would be facing. [00:40:00]
[00:40:00] Shivakumar: Absolutely right. The second key insight is enterprise, large enterprises do not have a constraint in terms of budget, actually. So as long as you're talking to the right stakeholder, they actually have the money to make the purchase.
[00:40:13] You can actually, first of all, price it more than what you think, especially if you're coming off an SMB background. You can actually charge more, much more than what you think. You can charge point number one. And then on, and then you will, you should of course be, they'll be demanding quality a lot more because it'll be business critical for them.
[00:40:30] So you can't like, have unreliable, non-secure products and stuff. So you should now instead focus on building more quality and giving more relation, building better relationships and having more people with the services bent of mind, trying to understand what is it that they want and they will be willing to more than happily pay for all of these services.
[00:40:50] So that's one. And secondly, it's completely fine for you to bake in like a yearly contract cost increase. I think these are some practices that most people who are coming in from an SMB background, [00:41:00] they don't really think of these kinds of things, but actually this is all quite standard in the enterprise.
[00:41:03] Salesforce, I believe has a 10% yearly cost increase baked into the contract. So these are some quick thoughts that came to my mind that I wanted to share on pricing.
[00:41:12] Akshay: In the long term can you like break down the economics of the business? What kind of pricing would you be doing? What would be your cost? What would be your margins? Today, maybe as you said its loss making, but what do you see it being like, what's the ideal state?
[00:41:25] Like what kind of pricing, margin costing, et cetera that mix?
[00:41:31] Shivakumar: Unfortunately now the business has become a little bit complex so I won't be able, cause now we have some seven products that we are selling. And each one of them have their own pricing access and market profiles and things like that.
[00:41:42] It's a little bit like asking Apple what will be your margin profile. Having said that, I think the ideal case scenario for us would be something in the 45% type gross margin profile. And 15% type EBITDA profile. So this is what we are working towards in the three-to-four-year timeframe.
[00:41:59] Akshay: Okay. And [00:42:00] what percentage of your revenue comes from enterprise?
[00:42:03] Shivakumar: Almost all of it. Almost 80% of it. Okay. Okay. Okay.
[00:42:07] Akshay: So that, that SME business is very small now.
[00:42:09] Shivakumar: That's a very small.
[00:42:10] Akshay: Okay. Okay. Do you see opportunity there, like to create more products, which would appeal to SMEs and so on, or like that market is not deep enough.
[00:42:22] Shivakumar: Probably is interesting now, but actually we've crossed that bridge now, so I don't want to go back. Right now, whatever, something's working, so I just wanna build more on top of it and I don't wanna go back.
[00:42:32] Akshay: How did you change your go-to-market DNA? The DNA for selling to SMEs would be, as you said, DIY and inbound leads a DNA.
[00:42:41] How did you change that?
[00:42:44] Shivakumar: See, initially there was one person who said we should do an enterprise, and then I'm gonna show it to you guys how to do it. And then we allowed him to do it. And then he brought one customer, he brought another customer. Then we, and
[00:42:55] Akshay: these are banking customers that he got like BFSI customers?
[00:42:59] Shivakumar: No, this was [00:43:00] actually the Uber,
[00:43:01] Akshay: okay. Okay. For the API business. Okay.
[00:43:05] Shivakumar: API business. So and pretty much he became like the enterprise head and ultimately, he became the entire sales head. So that's how it originally happened. But fortunately for our other two businesses, so Cogno started off by selling to large enterprises and he has his own story, and that's also a very interesting story.
[00:43:22] And then Ameyo also had a enterprise outbound sales motion. So finally when we brought it all together, we actually had the entire gamut of things. So we had outbound marketing, ABM, feet on street team, inside sales. So we now have a full-fledged, full blown, you name it, we have that team. So we do
[00:43:41] everything now.
[00:43:41] Akshay: Can you help me understand what are, what is an enterprise e sales Org structure?
[00:43:46] What are these various teams and how do they contribute?
[00:43:51] Shivakumar: At a high level there'll be a, there'll be a marketing team, and then there'll be there'll be a marketing team and a sales team. So marketing by and large will be responsible for [00:44:00] thought leadership, brand and positioning events those kinds of things. We also actually have the SDRs, the sales development representatives also report into marketing.
[00:44:10] So they do a bit of cold calling. They do a bit of research. They do account mapping. They reach out to customers, user cases sometimes we also call it ABM, account-based marketing. So that also actually falls under our marketing charter. And it also has communications, pr content.
[00:44:27] And then there's also, of course, an inbound motion. So the website, the asset the ads that we put and then the entire conversion from the website. So all of that. Then we have an inside sales team which actually qualifies these leads and then converts the opportunities and then adds it to the CRM.
[00:44:45] So this is all in the marketing ambit. And then once it becomes the sales accepted leads or SQLs, if you will, so then it becomes a part of the funnel, so the sales team itself can further be split into either. [00:45:00] Geographies, clusters or industries, or even product. In fact, we actually have a matrix of clusters and products.
[00:45:07] So we have people focused on BFSI on startups sometimes we actually also have regions, so focused in the Middle East, focused in India, focused in Southeast Asia. And then we also have GTM specialists who are focused on products. So there's a voice specialist, there is messaging specialist, there is a WhatsApp specialist.
[00:45:24] And then, so it becomes like a three in a box sort of model. And then they work together to create the GTM strategy, the motions, and actually identifying the accounts, mapping it, going and selling and things like that.
[00:45:35] Akshay: Wow. Okay. And is this something for which there was already a playbook or did you have to like, figure this out on your own or.
[00:45:43] Shivakumar: So this is how we evolved over time. So we also have a customer success team earlier. We then converted into a customer experience team. So we've actually also experimented with a whole bunch of stuff. But this is basically the knowledge that has been assimilated from three different companies.
[00:45:59] The [00:46:00] good and the bad, all of it coming together with a little bit of external consultants coming in to help. So it's a combination of multiple things and I'm not even trying to say that this is actually gonna be the endgame for us in terms of the org. I think it'll continue to evolve even further.
[00:46:13] So it's a journey.
[00:46:16] Akshay: Okay. Speaking of assimilation, like. That's one of those things which a lot of startups are not able to manage so well. Is that one of your concerns? Like you've acquired these two companies. How would how would the combined organization work as a cohesive unit?
[00:46:32] How would you look at a cohesive culture and practices and so on? What do you think of?
[00:46:38] Shivakumar: I think we've nailed it. I'm actually very pleased with the way I think 80%. I think everything is working fine, people are all doing their jobs. The first year of the acquisition, all three companies actually hit their numbers.
[00:46:49] And then we've not had a large amount of churn or anything like that. People have come together and they're still on the ground, of course, a little bit of challenges. But I think by and large, we've [00:47:00] managed the show very well.
[00:47:01] Akshay: How did you nail it? What's the secret of that success?
[00:47:04] Shivakumar: I think most two things. One one is my own personal ability. So, my superpower is being nice to people. Oh, wow. Okay. Amazing. Why wouldn't you want to hang on the nice person? So I think that's one. Ishwar's superpower is listening. My partner. So he also did another couple of tactical things that I think really cemented the organization.
[00:47:31] So he actually now ensured that everybody got the same salary no matter which company you're from and things like that. So there are, I think a couple of these very early things that we did really cemented the trust. This was number two. I think there's also quite a bit of strategic alignment.
[00:47:45] So this was not like some random company that we picked up along the way. We actually, I actually discussed the vision, with Aman, and then they saw it, they questioned it, and then they exactly knew what we are trying to do and why. So I think there's a lot of strategic equipment, but [00:48:00] more than all of this, I think we gave the time that was necessary.
[00:48:03] So we didn't really rush into pulling things together. And I didn't like force. In fact, I actually took step back multiple times and said, we are not ready for this yet. Let's take a step back. In fact, Cogno is still running separately. It's a quasi-together more but I think we took the time to do this and so that everybody had the time to go through the change, if you will.
[00:48:23] So I think these are some of the reasons why I think it has succeeded.
[00:48:26] Akshay: and are the founders in like now co-founders at Exotel? Are they in it for the long haul or what is the founders of Cogno and Sachin?
[00:48:37] Shivakumar: Yeah, absolutely.
[00:48:38] That's the surprising part. Both Sachin, certainly Sachin and maybe Aman as well. Both of them think of themselves as also founders. In fact, they are also. And so I think that they think of this as their own company and they're in it for the long haul. They've actually both made more money than I have actually.
[00:48:55] But that's not really stop them from continuing to pursue their dreams. [00:49:00]. So it's all great. Maybe they just got lucky.
[00:49:03] Akshay: Oh, wow. Amazing. Tell me what it takes to build a 900 people company and, to build it successfully.
[00:49:10] Shivakumar: Actually, I don't think anybody should attempt to build a 900 people company. I'm myself not pleased with the number of people that we have.
[00:49:17] It's a pain. It's a pain to communicate, to keep all of these people updated to ensure that they're all aligned. It's the overheads are humongous. If it's possible to one should always strive towards having lesser number of people for as long as they can, because the larger the number of people, bureaucracy is an automatic consequence of it.
[00:49:37] And that just sucks because it really drives good people away. And it breeds conformance. It breeds compliance. And such an institution will never do anything breath-taking. So one should always fight the intuition to hire more. In fact, it's the other way around for me.
[00:49:55] I'm actually asking people; how do we now do more with the people that we have? So I think that's the more [00:50:00] right question to have. So don't try to hire actually, so hiring should be the last resort.
[00:50:05] Akshay: Wow. That's an amazing insight. I have yet to hear that from someone that don't hire wow. Amazing.
[00:50:10] Okay, but otherwise how do you running a 900 people company is hard. How do you build like the leadership players and what is the way in which decision making happens? How process-oriented are you as a company? Help me understand some of that stuff.
[00:50:26] Shivakumar: Actually see, frankly, I don't really think about the 900 people at all. I only always think of the people who report to me. I had six, seven people reporting to me when we were a 200 people company. I still have only some six, seven people reporting to me when we are a 900 people organization.
[00:50:40] and my goal is to ensure that I keep these guys aligned all the time. And I specifically tell them anything that your team does is all your headache is not my headache. My job is to ensure that you all understand what we're trying to do as a team. So in this sense, I don't think anything changes for me, whether it is a 200, 2000 or a 20,000 people organization. [00:51:00]
[00:51:00] Of course the number of people whom you address in town halls and all of that increases. But in general it doesn't really change much from my standpoint. I am personally a very structured person. So I have my one-on-one with everyone and I have a discussion list that I encourage them also to understand.
[00:51:17] So unless it is urgent, I try not to call people. So I actually keep on adding stuff. And then during my one on one, I take these line items and I discuss it with them. I also at depth try to discuss the OKRs. So every one on one, I open the goals sheet and then. I asked them, so how are we doing this?
[00:51:32] Can we do it like this? How do we do that? Can we do it like that? So that usually the problem with the goal system is that people live in two parallel universes. So there is like the system where you set up goals and then you go and then do something else. You respond to emails and these, right? So my goal is to ensure that we are able to now get people to be intentional about work and not just respond to email, respond to phone calls, and you can [00:52:00] actually live years just doing this.
[00:52:02] So how do we now get people to be intentional about where they want to spend their time? So that's the kind of, and that's the fine tuning or nudging I'm trying to do using these,
[00:52:10] Akshay: okay. Amazing. And I'm guessing like this would get passed out, like your immediate reportees would learn and then do the same practice with their immediate reportees.
[00:52:21] Shivakumar: that is the case. So culture always flows from the top. So especially the ones that are working even without me having to ask people automatically know about it. . .
[00:52:28] Akshay: So this team of six, seven people must be like, real A players who, who would be directly reporting to you? How did you build this team?
[00:52:35] Shivakumar: So two of them are my co-founders. So one is Sachin, there's one to my partner. So they've been there from the very beginning. All the other people were hired so to speak. And I actually follow proper process. So I actually sit and write and elaborate JD.
[00:52:49] Then I actually have a scoring mechanism. Then I take resumes, I look through the resume, and then I actually score 1 0, 1 0. Then I do an average, and then see actually has [00:53:00] six on 10 or more. Then I try to do multiple rounds of interviews. Then there is a panel then I ask people to rate so it goes through a certain process.
[00:53:09] And fortunately so far, we've been good at I'm very happy with all the people that we've hired so far. So it seems to be working. I think I just get very structured about how we hire and that helps. So it's not,
[00:53:20] Akshay: which also helps you to not hire more than you need, like if you're structured.
[00:53:25] Shivakumar: Absolutely right, so the idea is not to find rockstars like we don't all need Steve Jobs. What we need is a clear understanding of what is it that I want from the person and whether the person has the skills to be able to deliver that. That's really the, it's the marriage of those two things, right?
[00:53:39] And I think ultimately the answer to that is whether you have the JD nailed. And whether you are hiring for the JD or you're hiring for your imagination.
[00:53:48] Akshay: Wow. That's I like that approach of creating parameters for rating because that would again give clarity. Once you start creating rating parameters and I'm guessing this would [00:54:00] be applied across all role.
[00:54:01] So therefore, as an organization, the hiring would be very mindful because for every role, people would've to first think, what are the parameters for which I wanna rate people for this role? And that indiscriminate hiring would automatically get discouraged because you would also need to put in that effort even before you hire someone.
[00:54:17] Okay. So what do you spend your time on what functions report to you? What's important to you?
[00:54:25] Shivakumar: Sachin Bhatia runs growth. He is our COO. He runs operations. Then I have the product head engineering head. Customer experience head and finance, CFO.
[00:54:36] So these are the people who report to me. Quite frankly, I spend a lot of time during one-on-ones during meetings. I mostly spend time trying to bring the focus of the team back to whatever we agreed upon as goals. So the human mind has a tendency of drifting away into the newest, shiny thing on the block.
[00:54:57] And so then my job is to say, wait, leave that. Come back [00:55:00] here. This is what we said. We'll do, tell me more about this. So I find myself doing a lot of that. So it's a lot of discipline actually. Execution is about discipline. Execution is not about flamboyant conversation. Execution is not about great strategy one, of course great strategy is important, but once you've nailed the strategy, then you have to have that discipline to sit and execute.
[00:55:17] I think that's the part that. That's hard. And I think a couple of actually this is a, the discipline is a very important point. Because there are a few things that really help me be able to just turn up at work again and again without having to like a marathon versus a sprint sort of a thing.
[00:55:33] So I believe in the law of marginal gains.
[00:55:36] Akshay: How close do you think you're to that end of where you wanna take Exotel to?
[00:55:40] Shivakumar: Oh, there is no end. So Exotel is the final thing that I will ever do in my life. And so it's as much a part of my life as life itself is so I'm gonna just keep doing this and keep building it as long as I can.
[00:55:52] But obviously there'll come a point when the company will become irrelevant, the world will move on. And as an entrepreneur I am little bit [00:56:00] afraid of that. But that's just the fact of life. Everything, every good, all good things must come to an end. But whenever that is, whatever that is, I don't know.
[00:56:07] But until we get there, I'll keep going.
[00:56:10] Akshay: What is the next milestone for you at Exotel?
[00:56:15] Shivakumar: So I think we want to launch the world class cloud contact centre that I've been talking to you about sometime early next fiscal is when we'd like to take that. And I'm actually quite excited about how the market will react to it.
[00:56:26] I wanna see a few large banks adopting our contact centre on the cloud. And I wanna be able to say that, hey, that support system is on us. Hey, this support system is on us. So that's what I'm actually very excited about. So it'll hopefully be a product that the customers will love.
[00:56:42] Akshay: Is there a competing product for this?
[00:56:46] Shivakumar: Genesis,
[00:56:46] Avaya, Cisco. Cisco has something okay. They sell in the emerging market. So yeah,
[00:56:53] Akshay: so those price would not be priced for emerging market. You want to create something equivalent, but at a emerging [00:57:00] market price point.
[00:57:01] Shivakumar: That's one way to think about it. But we also wanna, there are also some specific viewpoints that we have that are different from, let's say, what Genesis or Avaya might think about.
[00:57:10] So for example, we are actually a licensed telco as well, so we actually own and operate the underlying network. Genesis would never do something like that. So we are also taking a very different take on the matter. So it won't be just pricing. It'll be more than that.
[00:57:23] Akshay: Okay. Okay. Got it.
[00:57:24] Got it. Okay. Amazing. Strategy is different and from a number’s perspective, what? You have some milestones like
[00:57:32] Shivakumar: ideas to get about 1500 crores in top line in about three years.
[00:57:36] Akshay: Wow. Amazing. And do you need to raise more funds to hit 1500 crores
[00:57:42] Shivakumar: it is, let me just put it a slightly different way.
[00:57:43] It is possible to figure out ways to run the company without having to run without having to raise. But I don't know if that's the ideal thing to do. So I think those, both those options are existing. So there is a plan A and a plan B. All of our investors are appreciative and supportive of our [00:58:00] story so far.
[00:58:00] So I don't think raising itself will be a challenge. I think what we are instead talking about is how do we create a business that looks great for investors to come in if and when we do go public. I think that's the problem statement that we are trying to solve. And if we need to raise more money, then we'll,
[00:58:15] Akshay: and going public is what kind of timeline?
[00:58:19] Shivakumar: No timeline by going public, to say how do we create a business that makes profits? I think that's the key point. Just going public will just make a few things easier in terms of our ability to raise capital and, the leverages that we will get and brand that we will get and so on so forth.
[00:58:35] But there are also some negatives. You'll live your life on a quarterly basis. It's very difficult to take long-term bets when your stocks getting hammered. So it's not it's neither good or bad, it's just one more step in the evolution of a company. So there are positives and negatives, so I'm aware of that.
[00:58:50] And it happens. It'll happen when it happens.
[00:58:53] Akshay: Okay. My last question to you. Most of our listeners are aspiring founders slash people working in [00:59:00] startups, and, what advice would you like to give them about entrepreneurship?
[00:59:06] Shivakumar: See actually my take on advice is very different from most of how people will respond to this question.
[00:59:14] First off all I would like to start off by saying that I have no advice to give and I'll try to explain what I mean. Even as we grew up maybe your parents told you that hey, don't take any risks in life. It's a very bad thing. And then maybe my parents said you should always take risks because otherwise you'll actually not end up achieving anything, right?
[00:59:33] Now what is the correct advice? Actually, they're both correct advice, right? So if you keep on taking risks then at some point you are going to fall flat and you'll fail, and that's not a good feeling. However, if you don't take any risks and you just sit at home, then you are not going to experience the richness of life.
[00:59:48] And that is also the good advice. So the tricky thing about advice the right advice that you need to hear the right advice for you is the advice that you need to hear. [01:00:00] And I think as entrepreneurs, I mean in general, in life I think all of our goals is to try to figure out what is the kind of advice that you need to hear.
[01:00:09] I think that's the tricky part. There is books on every goddamn topic under the sun, right? So that's not the hard part. The problem is that most of the time people are reading advice that is actually harmful to them, that is actually sending them in the wrong direction. So a person is very aggressive. He basically now goes and reads a book that says, what got you here will not get you there.
[01:00:30] And then he tries to be even more aggressive. And then it just basically falls flat. So that's the key thing, right? I think how can we now as individuals understand ourselves better? And once you are able to do that, once you're able to understand how your mind thinks, or what are some of your thought patterns how do you react to situations then I think figuring out what you need to do is actually the easy part.
[01:00:54] So that's what I'd like to say which is that don't fall for random pieces of [01:01:00] advice. Try to understand yourself as a person.
[01:01:02] Akshay: Amazing. Amazing. Okay.
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