Mindtickle, founded in 2011, helps companies become revenue-ready with their market-leading sales readiness platform. You know this already, the company is one of India’s most successful SaaS startups, with offices in Pune and San Francisco.
But this year has been exceptionally good for them, even by their own high standards. Because in 2021, they were declared a unicorn.
As part of Atoms Spotlight, I spoke to co-founders Krishna Depura and Deepak Diwakar about their journey and what they did in the first 100 days after their funding.
“Back then there was less support and visibility, so we are thankful that has changed. The success we have now is the validation of the belief in what we started” says Krishna.
A lot of the companies back then were focused on consumer businesses, as he points out. But both Krishna and Deepak had the belief that their efforts as a SaaS company would come to fruition. And they have.
He also adds that there were waves of euphoria in the ecosystem, like the current spate. But things keep changing, he says, and what is important is to continue to focus on the business. He points out that there has been an e-commerce wave, a hyperlocal wave, and now the Saas wave. But during every wave, fundamental companies with fundamental businesses have survived.
“One fundamental thing we had was to build an enterprise product from India”, says Deepak, “We wanted to build a different model from India to serve the global community. Ten years back if you had asked us our philosophy we would say - let’s pull it till we become a unicorn, but as you grow, you realise that is not the metric. Today the metric is institutionalization. Can we actually build an institution that sustains without us?”
Back in 2011, there was no precedence of enterprise companies, there were just some early signs of SMB software. Freshworks was also very small at that time. Mindtickle did not have any immediate role models.
They had met Accel twice before their funding happened, Krishna recalls. They actually pitched Accel something else, a treasure hunt of sorts for education. Accel immediately liked it and gave them some ideas to think about. But then all the founders went back to the drawing board and realised that they were not really convinced. Education is a serious game and we did not have the expertise, they thought.
The Mindtickle team started looking at what they were good at and which would create a global impact. That is when they started thinking that they could do better in the corporate world, because of their past experience and understanding. They wanted to take all these things and turn them into an online treasure hunt for onboarding or employee engagement.
They went back to Accel with this proposal. And Accel was in.
Krishna also feels that something like Atoms at that time would have been fantastic.
First, because of their clarity and what they call ‘honesty of purpose’, Mindtickle was able to attract a very good team on a very low early budget, people they say you cannot attract now even if you’ve got 10 million dollars. They feel that the first group of 10-20 people was the secret sauce and they recommend hiring for purpose and passion. Otherwise, you cannot be successful quickly, and without some kind of early success, lasting long becomes difficult.
“When you have to survive you need to iterate quickly and you need a team that backs you up. We worked on plastic tables and chairs for four years. We got a good team with people from IIT and people who had done their own startups and we maintained transparency with them”, adds Krishna.
The second point they spoke about was execution-oriented: that one of the fundamental things they did was just not give up: If x is not working y needed to be figured out. That’s it. And sometimes an idea that has taken time to think about and build need to be given up. It’s hard but has to be done. That’s not easy. Because you’re abandoning something for which you’ve worked a whole year. So having a mindset that has no affection for the product but affection for the problem is important. It’ll help you iterate fast.
Both Deepak and Krishna had unanimous answers to this. One, that PMF was the first thing founders should be aiming for. And when you do get there, the second is figuring out the right kind of marketing you have to do becomes even more important. And they don’t mean putting up billboards and stuff, but to really get into the psyche of the audience you are building for. Doing that very early sets up a growth curve that compounds something they learnt late, they say.