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From Zero to Thirty Clients in Less Than 3 Months

The journey of how a solo tech founder, Arvind, cracked sales and grew his client base at Infosec Future.

 

India is world’s fastest growing startup ecosystem where 3–4 new firms are born every day. We have grown significantly in the past five years and are expected to grow 10–12% YOY for the next five years till 2020.

This boom has also led to the evolution of many service-based companies catering to the requirements of the startups.

There are around 9k Indian companies on AngelList with the “Service” tag.(Its shocking right?)

Angel List

Angel List

Credits: AngelList

On top of this, you will find every second person calling him a freelancer these days. (The power of social media)

It has become very difficult for a company to differentiate and standout in this highly competitive marketplace.

Read through this interview to know:

“How Arvind found his niche, differentiated in the marketplace and cracked sales being from a technical background.”

This is the second interview of the series “PushInterview: Interviews that helps you Pushstart” powered by Pushstart.

Check out our first interview “How I built one of the most active startup community of India” if you missed it out.

Who are you?

My name is Dr. Arvind K. Singh, and I am an information security researcher, speaker, and consultant.

I did masters in Computer Science from IIT-Patna and pursued Ph.D. in Information Assurance and Security from Colorado Technical University-USA.

From the past 3 months, I have been working on building Infosec Future Pvt Ltd — a company providing complete cybersecurity services specifically designed for startups and SMEs.

Since our launch in August 2017, we’ve grown our client base from zero to thirty.

2. What’s the deal with Infosec Future?

Well, the deal is in its name. The most valuable asset at present is “Information”. It is the information, which holds our future.

Information stored in digital form, is accessible from anywhere in this world just by the click of a button. It is its security which matters the most to secure our future.

We, at Infosec Future, are trying to secure the future of our society, by securing information.

Our services include annual security audits, penetration testing, threat modeling, readiness awareness, application testing, software development life cycle security integration, security code review, and more.

3. What motivated you to start Infosec Future?

When I came back to India in March 2017, I was astonished by the scale at which data and processes were getting digitized. Digital India, a mission started in the year 2015, had turned into a revolution.

But no one was aware of the threat it possessed. The threat to information security.

A few months back, Aadhar card (unique and universal identity card for the citizens of India) data was hacked by a person in less than 6 hours.

Our whole economy can be shutdown, just at the click of a button, from practically anywhere in this world.

Two factors which play a vital role:

  1. Lack of awareness and resources.
  2. The high cost of security.

Being an entrepreneur myself, (I started a company called CyberInjection in the USA in Nov-2014, which was later acquired by Federal Government in mid-2016), I knew that startups are always tight on their budget.

With this domain being untouched by the leaders in cyber security, I saw an opportunity here to provide affordable cyber security. And this is how, the journey of Infosec Future Began.

4. What all went into building the MVP?

“Idea validation is the most important step in a service-based startup where MVP is the founder.”

For the month of May and June, I was out there meeting entrepreneurs, discussing about their startups, trying to figure out:

  1. What challenges are they facing in terms of information security?
  2. How are they handling it currently?
  3. What are their future plans?

I would tell them about my idea and offer my experience and expertise. I personally went to 13 meet-ups, in 7 cities, and met hundreds of Entrepreneurs.

Meeting and interacting with entrepreneurs greatly helped me identify the core problem and develop an enormous amount of market insights. Some of them were:

  1. Almost one-tenth of the entrepreneurs I met, had already faced attacks or have been a victim of hacking in the past.
  2. Half of them were completely aware of the risk but couldn’t proceed due to the high cost.
  3. While rest of them were not even aware.

After processing the insights and doing my homework, it was time to validate my idea. So, I reached out to people, on LinkedIn and Facebook (I personally don’t use any other Social media platform except these two), and introduced them to my idea.

As I knew that startups are always tight on their budget and security is an ongoing process, I kept the offering to be low-cost subscription based.

I got such an overwhelming response from the community that I instantly registered Infosec Future. Getting Startup India recognition within 72 hours of registration further bolstered my belief.

This was when, I realized that we have built our MVP, and it was time to go live, go practical, and go after securing the startup ecosystem.

5. How did you get your initial clients and how did it grow?

I am a complete techie and I had no idea about sales and marketing when I was starting out. So, I took the most logical step of feeding on social channels to get the initial clients.

There are tons of startup communities out there on Facebook. Become part of them and connect with your target audience.

would start the conversation by talking about their startup and giving ample amount of time to express themselves.

“People like talking about themselves, it is human psychology. Just give them what they like.”

And then, it was always the other person who would ask about me and my startup. Since I had patiently listened to their idea, they would happily give me time, and thus, none of my conversations went into vain.

We either ended up signing a MoU or becoming friends. Either way, my network was increasing day by day. I got the first few clients even when I didn’t have a proper website.

In September, when we started our operations as a team, this cold-reach out helped us get 10 clients in the very first month. By mid-October, we had on-boarded 20 clients.

The thing which has helped us grow rapidly is our unconventional approach of starting a two-way interaction and genuine conversations rather than up-selling.

The strategy we implemented was simple yet effective :

  1. Start the conversation by talking about their idea.
  2. Listen to them patiently and provide your valuable feedback. Tell them what you like about their initiative.
  3. Try to figure out the core problems that they are facing currently.
  4. Never sell directly, rather try educating them about the depth of the problem.
  5. And then offer your experience and expertise as the solution.

Some screenshots to make things more understandable:

How I usually start a conversation:

How I usually start a conversation

How I usually break the first barrier to a fruitful introduction:

How I usually break the first barrier of a fruitful introduction

Do note that this strategy worked well for us because our product was unique, affordable and solved a core problem.”

6. What is your business model and how have you grown your revenue?

Our business model is similar to any other company catering in the service industry which is to deliver satisfactory services to the client in return for a monthly or annual fee.

We provide an annual subscription for our security packages targeting different segments in various industries.

Our package starts with securing a single website to a whole network of websites, which grants us the opportunity to work with a startup throughout their growth journey.

Growth in revenue till now has been largely dependent upon the growth in our client base.

“Our unique and affordable offering, core-problem solving service, and an unconventional approach to on-boarding clients have helped us in growing our client base and thus the revenue.”

How our revenue has grown in the last 3 months:

August: Rs 9000

September: Rs 27000

October: Rs 84000

7. What are your future goals and how do you plan to achieve them?

Our long-term goal is to secure data of every startup and SME of India and capture 50% of the market share in the next 5 years.

The immediate short-term goal is to secure data of 2000 Indian startups and SMEs by the end of 2018.

We have opted for balanced outbound and inbound strategy with upfront value to the market by quality content and free reports to achieve this.

Further on the product front, we are in the process of automating the complete process of the security audit, job allocation to teams, and report generation for various tests. Currently, this is in its prototype stage and will hopefully launch in the first quarter of 2018.

We are also building a free security audit tool, which will be embedded on our website, so that people can check the basic security details of their website, without even interacting with us. This will help us in capturing precise leads at scale.

Growing average revenue per client is also one of our major goals.

“For growing revenue especially in the service industry: It is all about maintaining healthy retention, as acquiring a new customer is comparatively costlier than retaining the current one.”

Therefore, to grow retention for Infosec Future, we have laid down a separate client servicing strategy which even includes remembering our clients’ birthday and we soon will be hiring relationship managers for the same.

8. The biggest challenges you have faced till now and how did you cope with them?

The first challenge I faced was to get a decent website developed for Infosec Future. I worked with two freelancers and an agency for three months, but nothing really kicked-off. I was not at all satisfied with their work.

In the end, I decided to work on my website. I designed a good looking website in just 2 days with the help of WordPress.

“If you can’t find a person with the required skill, learn that skill and become that person.”

The biggest challenge I have faced till now is to onboard quality like-minded folks in my team. Sadly, the first three people I employed, left within the first month of joining. I coped with this challenge by hiring interns for every function of my company.

My background and profile have helped me in hiring interns from some of the top Business Schools in India. You will be shocked to know that I am currently working with 27 interns and it is somehow working out for me.

Team @ Infosec Future:

Team @ Infosec Future

9. What is your advice to Pushstarters starting out?

“Focus on giving rather than taking. Give all you have to offer to your clients, without expecting anything in return. Trust me, you won’t be disappointed.”

Don’t go around hunting for clients, rather build a strong network of friends.

Innovation is about “How you do things rather than What you do”. Being an entrepreneur, you are the biggest innovation. Believe in yourself, things will fall into place eventually.

10. How can we reach out to you?

You can visit infosecfuture.com to learn more about us.

Connect with guest blogger on LinkedInFacebookEmail or Skype if you want to geek out about startups.

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3 Effective Methods to Get Customer Referrals

“People influence people. Nothing influences people more than a recommendation from a trusted friend. A trusted referral influences people more than the best broadcast message. A trusted referral is the Holy Grail of advertising.” — Mark Zuckerberg, CEO

A customer referral is one of the best signs of success. It’s what fuels many entrepreneurs.

Customer referral is a fancy way of saying “word of mouth.” It is the oldest form of marketing and it is still the most powerful. This why startups need to pay attention! Every good marketer understands that people have busy schedules and sometimes they just need a gentle reminder (or trigger) to give you that golden referral your business needs.

The power of customer referrals

Here are three easy and effective methods about when and how to ask for customer referrals.

Method #1

When: During customer discovery interviews

Even early stage startups can use the referrals they get from Day 1. After you survey about your target audience’s pain and benefit, see if they have other friends/colleagues that are in a similar. Remember to take every opportunity to expand your customer base early on!

Leave no stone unturned

Method #2

When: After closing a happy customer

Take advantage of that rush or good feeling that the customer has after you have closed that deal/provided them value. For example, when our startup users went through our platform and closed their first Seed round with the help with of VenturX, we took that opportunity to get customer testimonial and ask for referrals. One founder said that his experience was easy and efficient for him so that is a good time to ask for recommendations. Beware, though: this is momentary. It will fade fast in today’s noisy world; also be watching for those opportunity moments. Timing is key.

Method #3

Referral link on website/application

For some industries, referral links on your company website or mobile application is second nature. Successful companies such as Groupon or Uber expands their network by five-fold just by:

  1. making it easy to refer people
  2. giving users an incentive to refer people (ie. Uber credit)

The less the effort and the better the incentive, the more effective this method would be.

Invite a friend

*Customer referrals are among the best things you can do for your business. At VenturX, we consider it a bonus factor in our “engagement metric” for startups; so the more referrals they get, the better their overall engagement becomes and the closer they are to entrepreneurial success.

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Success Doesn’t Just Happen, It’s Planned For!

Success Doesn’t Just Happen, It’s Planned For!

Success Doesn’t Just Happen, It’s Planned For!

Startups plan and plan and plan…but where does it all go?

We wanted to find out how many startups like to draw out plans so we sent out a survey across Canada and the US to 175 startups. A whopping 68% of startups still like to use Post Its and visually draw it out. Nowadays, we have so many amazing business tool that we can use to make sure that your plan is:

  1. Improving your metrics (ie. conversion, engagement, etc..)
  2. Thorough (so not a single note gets lost)
  3. Visual (65% of people are visual learners according to Forbes Magazine Article — https://www.forbes.com/sites/tjmccue/2013/01/08/what-is-an-infographic-and-ways-to-make-it-go-viral/#6452cd047272)

So check out how your startup is planning for your success!

Old and New Ways to Build Your Strategic Plan

Old and New Ways to Build Your Strategic Plan

For more ways to make sure you are planning SMART, check out this great read: http://blog.venturx.ca/2017/08/23/smart-startup-goals/

Thanks for reading!  If you enjoyed this article,

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VenturX is for ALL early stages of Entrepreneurship

VenturX is for ALL early stages of Entrepreneurship

Did you know that 90% of startups fail in their first year? VenturX’s goal is to help early stage entrepreneurs beat the odds! VenturX uses benchmarks and metrics from granters and investors across Canada to help guide startups with a SaaS tool. There are different types of “Early Stage” Entrepreneurship broken down as follows. Let us show you how we can help!

 

1. How VenturX helps in the Idea Creation Stage:

Definition:

· You have thought of a name and what you want to build or maybe a couple of ideas of different potential startups

· You may have recruited interested co-founders

· You may even have business cards!

· You haven’t talked to potential customers in your target market and haven’t invested a lot of time and money yet.

Are you ready for VenturX? YES!

How VenturX can Help:

· VenturX can help you test out your early ideas! Check out this article for 4 MUST-DO steps while in the Idea Creation stage: https://medium.com/@VenturX_team/how-to-survey-for-product-market-fit-in-24-hours-2f79571ea5d4

2. How VenturX helps in the “Pre-Revenue” Stage

Definition:

· You are passionate about the idea and don’t know all the opportunities that are out there

· You don’t have any sales yet (sometimes said as no revenue yet)

· You might be busy building out your product or having a hard time finding those early adopters

Are you ready for VenturX? YES!

How VenturX can Help You Save Time:

· We help you prioritize which new features to build

· We track your early adopters’ pain points

· We free you up to work the other things on your plate!

· VenturX provides industry benchmarks to guide you along the path of success and increase your chances of earning trevenue!

3. How VenturX helps in the Funding Stage (Seed Round or Series A)

snoopy

Definition:

· You are trying to gain funding from investors

Are you ready for VenturX? YES!

VenturX Entrepreneur Dashboard gives real time Runway

How VenturX can Help:

· We calculate your runway time so you know how much money and time you have to get funding and make that first sale!

· Gives you benchmarks and requirements for funding to best prepare you for success for investor presentations

4. How VenturX helps in the Ramen Profit Stage

ramen profitDefinition:

· You make just enough money to eat Ramen Noodles every day

· Officially launched startup but want more customers

· Already have your early adopters on board

Are you ready for VenturX? YES!

How VenturX can Help:

· Score test results from your market for early majority customers

·After helping you identify early adopters, VenturX guides you to your next target. you don’t want to waste too much money investing in the wrong market. We are here to help!

5. How VenturX helps in the Late Funding Stage (Series B-D)

Product Adoption Lifecycle

Product Adoption Lifecycle

Definition:

· You have closed Series A and are looking into more funding

· You are focusing on your innovative R&D and scaling your growth

Are you ready for VenturX? YES

 

How VenturX can Help:

·You can still use VenturX to test out new product extensions to make sure you are not cannibalizing your own market

“The reality is the Lean Startup method is not about cost, it is about speed. Lean startups waste less money, because they don’t use a disciplined approach to testing new products and ideas.” — Eric Ries, American entrepreneur, blogger and author of The Lean Startup, a book on the lean startup movement.

Let VenturX help you accelerate your startup today. Sign up @ www.venturx.ca

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What is the difference between VenturX and HockeyStick and LaunchPad?

What is the difference between VenturX and HockeyStick and LaunchPad?

VenturX is a startup success tool that tracks and benchmarks startups across all industries until they are ready to be connected to funding. VenturX leverages data to optimize the entrepreneurial journey.

We have made a helpful chart to help us demonstrate!

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How to Survey for Product Market Fit in 24 hours

With all the buzzwords surrounding entrepreneurship like venture capital, acceleration, growth hacking, etc., there is always one phrase that stumps most entrepreneurs in their track! PRODUCT MARKET FIT!

This topic was fascinating to me to the point where I have been researching it since 2016 and built a startup tool to measure it. That was how VenturX was created, a startup that focuses on leveraging data to help early stage startups get from product market fit to funding. We focus on the most important KPIs for young companies such as product market fit.

At VenturX, we’re creating tools to help early-stage startups succeed; the first thing we always suggest is assessing the product-market fit. Not only is it the number one reason why startups fail (according to a report by CBInsights), but also the hardest to achieve because it can seem daunting to collect all the data in order to prove that their idea addresses a real need. The initial assessment of product market fit doesn’t necessarily require huge amounts of time or money. In this post, we’ll lay out four straightforward steps that you can follow to get a solid first look at how well your idea fits a market need.

top 20 reasons startups fail

What exactly is product market fit?

“Product/market fit means being in a good market with a product that can satisfy that market.” — Marc Andreessen, Entrepreneur & Co-founder of Silicon Valley Venture Capital Firm (Source: http://web.stanford.edu/class/ee204/ProductMarketFit.html)

4 steps for assessing product-market fit

1. Determine Your Target Audience

If you don’t know where to start, ask yourself who are you selling to and who needs your product/service?

From researching entrepreneurs for the past year, I learned that the hardest step is surveying those first 5 customers. To do it in 24 hours, can you find an event or location where your target audience happens to be? Remember you are doing research and not selling to them.

Example: For VenturX, part of my target audience is venture capital investors. I knew that they could often be found at startup competitions where they serve as judges. I knew that attending an event like this would be ideal to get the most amount of research done in 24 hours.

“If you can do 5 [customer interviews], you can do 35” — Robert Bennett, Viatec Accelerator

Tip: Not everyone likes talking to strangers, so why not bring a friend who LOVES it!! If you are in Montreal, send me a message or comment below and I’ll take the first 5 people to go surveying for their startups!

2. Ask the Right Questions

I asked multiple startups how they were currently researching product market fit and they all told me they input information into a spreadsheet and never used it again. Their issue was that they were collecting only qualitative information and had no way of comparing answers. If they had quantitative information, they would be able to compare the target market’s level of pain and benefit.

The solution? Rather than asking purely open-ended questions like “What do you think of this idea?” get them to describe the pain your idea addresses and the benefit it provides and asks participants to rate them on a numerical scale. Here’s an example of how your survey might look. If you’d like a copy of the survey, shoot an email to sydney.wong@venturx.ca with the subject line “Product Market Fit Survey” and I’ll send it your way.

Example of Pain: Startups who are not ready for funding take up a lot of the investors’ time with everything from initial pitches to due diligence and follow-ups. Investors often end up telling these startups to keep in touch, that it is not a good fit at this time, or to come back later.

Example of Benefit: What if you had a solution that would replace your current application process and cut your due diligence in half? You would see the best startups who have reached their product market fit level and score higher than their industry benchmarks.

TIP: Always ask about the pain before the benefit. If you only talk about your solution, it is no longer research, but rather a sales pitch!

TIP: If you are unsure of your pain and benefit statements and only have limited time at one event to get all those responses, then bring two different pain and benefit statements, and compare responses to both.

3. Track Answers

Currently, most startups are manually tracking their answers on a spreadsheet. The benefit of spreadsheet tools is that it’s familiar, and you can manually create graphs from the data and present them to your team.

Another option is to use the startup tool that we’ve created at VenturX, that takes in your survey data and automatically calculates a product market fit score. It takes 30 secs to get a score like the one below! You can try it out at www.venturx.ca.

Example of my score when I interviewed Early Stage Venture Capitalists regarding their Pain and Benefit:

Find out your product market fit score @ www.venturx.ca

TIP: Do not let your target audience see other people’s answers or else it might influence their answers too.

4. Rinse and Repeat

It is normal that you do not get a lot of 9’s and 10’s on your first iteration, but the important thing is to stay consistent. Do not change your pain or benefit statement after just a few responses. (You’ll know that you are on the right track when you consistently get high scores (9’s or 10’s) when you survey.

Example: I had to narrow my target market to only early stage venture capitalists, rather than all VCs. If I expand my product with more features, I will have to rinse and repeat this process all over again with a new product market fit survey for a new audience!

Once you’ve completed these steps, take a step back and look at your results. Whether your scores are low or high, you’ve certainly achieved something. You now have a quantified score that either validates your idea or tells to you to try a different target market or tweak your angle. Either way, stay strong, motivated, and persistent, and keep on quantifying!

So there you have it! Steps on how you can quickly and efficiently get your product market fit and get a real analysis of what your market is really looking for. Product Market Fit is one of the key KPIs that VenturX helps startups track and improve on in real time. For more information about this topic or other startups KPIs, please visit www.venturx.ca

Or contact the author sydney.wong@ventux.ca

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