This article is part of The Product Summit 2020, India’s largest virtual product conference, to be held on October 10th & 11th, 2020. Click here to know more!
In ancient times, caravans of traders and travellers halted at designated spots and people talked to each other about what they saw on their way. This served as a source of information that helped stewards navigate the path next day and steer clear of looters and warring tribes.
Millennia later, business summits aren’t all that different — leaders and managers talk to each other about what problems they have encountered on their journeys and how the path ahead can be best navigated. The coronavirus pandemic however dropped the curtains on many such events and, ironically, at a time when companies needed to share their experiences the most.
The biggest disruption from the Covid pandemic has perhaps been seen in its catalytic effect on the digital transformation of consumers and businesses, with tech startups being caught in the eye of the storm.
While struggling to survive amid a funding crunch, they have also been called upon to help traditionally brick and mortar businesses adapt to the new normal. As a result, startups have been tweaking and their products to focus on building for a Covid-impacted world.
While the Indian tech ecosystem has taken rapid strides in recent years in terms of product development, funding events, and attaining global scales, our product warriors have hardly had the opportunity to recount their journeys and learn from each other in the absence of product conferences.
In an effort to correct this anomaly, Inc42 and The Product Folks are hosting The Product Summit, the biggest product extravaganza of the year on October 10th and 11th where luminaries of the startup ecosystem will get together to talk about everything related to products — from achieving product-market fit to decoding the psychology of the next billion users.
In the run-up to The Product Summit, we spoke to the country’s top product leaders and startup founders on why such a congregation is vital to the growth of product teams in tech startups. Here are excerpts from what they had to say:
Ashneer Grover started out as an investment banker with a subsidiary of Kotak Mahindra Bank, one of India’s biggest success stories in the financial services industry. His next stop was American Express as the head of corporate development and this where the fintech space caught his eye — as he led a Series B investment round in Mobikwik, a startup that operates in the digital wallets space.
Changing his career direction, he entered the startup world by joining Grofers as its chief financial officer and building the product closely with its founders. In 2018, Grover took the entrepreneurial plunge with BharatPe, a mobile payments company that has recently ventured into B2B digital lending.
The fintech founder feels that historically, India has been a provider of tech manpower — companies such as Infosys, TCS and Wipro have been providing IT services to larger product firms overseas. But the tide is turning and now Indian tech companies are on their path to building superior products that the world will sit up and take notice of.
“A case in point is all the fintech products that you see around. In fact, UPI is a great product. I think the time for ‘products’ in India has just come.”
While this means that numerous companies would be jostling for the attention of a common set of potential customers, this also presents an opportunity for startups to share knowledge about shared goals.
“It is good to have all these summits to share knowledge amongst product teams. Also, they provide a good platform to learn from other product guys and also accelerate the entire ecosystem,” said Grover.
Pallav Nadhani is a serial entrepreneur and investor who sold his 18-year-old startup Fushioncharts to Idera in March this year. The bootstrapped data visualisation platform was profit-making and intensely focussed on products with tools that supported developers in building user-friendly, visually-appealing dashboards for projects.
Nadhani, who recently founded data visualisation platform charts.com, said, “In the last few years India has created a few very successful startups and these startups have built products that have received global acclaim.” Each of these startups are backed by great founders and teams who know what it is to build a great product and iterate it to a better version time and again.
“I think The Product Summit is a great way for these minds to come together to share, to learn, to build relationships,” he said.
Tejas Vyas started his career as a software engineer at Tata Consultancy Services before launching Epic Browser as the technical head of Hidden Reflex in 2010. In 2012, he joined BigBasket as a product architect and quickly rose through the ranks to become the head of products.
Having seen Bigbasket through its scaling-up phase, Vyas said that product management is both a science and an art. While the scientific side of product management is about measuring, about understanding data and devising solutions, the creative side is about connecting the innovative thoughts and ideas for finding solutions to consumers’ problems.
“We need people to people interaction to understand both the science and art sides. We need forums where product managers can exchange notes, learn from each other and product summits are an effective way of doing that,” said Vyas.
Karan Bajaj, founder and CEO of edtech startup WhiteHat Jr, knows a thing or two about scaling up after WhiteHat was acquired by BYJU’s for a hefty $300 Mn after just 18 months in the market. WhiteHat Jr enables kids aged 6-14 to learn programming and coding through one-on-one video classes.
“I think 70% of the learning is going to happen through work and 30% of the learning is going to happen through training and peers,” said Bajaj.
According to the founder, while summits can’t replace the heavy lifting of building a product, they can help augment the 30% of the learning that a founder or a product leader draws needs.
Amit Bansal started his career as a sales manager at Asian Paints but then changed tracks to pursue a career in product management that took him to various software companies in the US. After rising up the ranks to become the product head at Talisma, Bansal decided to strike out on his own.
According to Bansal, India is still in its early years of product development and a lot of products are adapted for the country from foreign models rather than created from scratch.
For this reason, product summits can help practitioners and budding product managers get a perspective on how to build great products and learn from the best in the field.
“There is nothing better than learning from the mistakes and successes of others rather than relying just on one’s own limited experience,” he said.
Akshay Mehrotra, the CEO and cofounder of digital lender EarlySalary, was a marketing professional before taking the entrepreneurial plunge. As head of product strategy at EarlySalary, Mehrota believes that transparency and fairness are the two pillars that determine the success of a product team.
“Product management is still an evolving department across most companies and usually only looked as a function which takes critical roles in tech start-ups rather than larger companies,” said Mehrotra.
Product summits help in building awareness about the role of product teams which can drive organisations to adopt best practices.
“This can shape how a business looks at digital transformation and how a company leadership solves problems — going beyond just technology enablement to work on larger growth areas,” said Mehrotra.
Achin Bhattacharyya, a chartered accountant for most of his career, took the entrepreneurial plunge in 2018 with Notebook, an edtech startup that caters to school curriculum-based content with a focus on vernacular instruction.
Bhattacharya said, “The growth of entire human civilisation has been based on the concept of sharing our experiences with each other and not making the same mistakes or wasting time and resources by reinventing the wheel multiple times.”
Summits help level the playing field, especially for startups, by connecting them with others who have tackled or are tackling similar issues.
“In today’s VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) world, we really need greater collaboration and it’s immensely gratifying when we can share our experience and help others facing similar problems,” he added.
Soham Chokshi, founder and CEO of logistics solutions provider Shipsy, said that while there’s a need to have product conferences to be able to share knowledge among startups, the focus should be on depth rather than breadth.
“As India gradually transforms from a service-led to a product driven economy, there is an urgent need to share knowledge on how to build scalable products”, he said.
Ashneer Grover, Tejas Vyas, Pallav Nadhani and Karan Bajaj will be speaking at The Product Summit — India’s First And Largest Virtual Product Conference, supported by Amplitude, AWS, Dell Technologies, and DigitalOcean, scheduled for 10th & 11th October 2020. Register Now!