To Be or Not to Be

Couple of interesting things happened in the last few days. Since we released the new version, there was (and still is as I write) a heav

 · 3 min read

Couple of interesting things happened in the last few days. Since we released the new version, there was (and still is as I write) a heavy support load. During this time, new customers were not so patiently waiting for us to setup accounts. One customer from Russia put finally said it "It's easy to get the impression that you really like making software, you just don't want to sell any".

Last evening M dropped in to have a chat. He told me, you need to really start selling. "Hire a few of people for tele sales, and since you are already getting incoming leads, its just a matter of getting on the line and closing the deal. I have seen this over and over again. I have seen with my own eyes how Zimbra (open source email server) made it big. I used to work in their call center. They just started calling customers and the money flowed in. They sold to Yahoo for $350 million of dollars. I know a couple of other companies that have made it big the same way."

"But who will put in the money? What about the product? Will it stand the volume? You know, I have been through this real tough time last few years and I am not willing to take any more risk.", I questioned.

"I have investors who I have talked to. They seem interested.". He seemed very keen on getting me out there.

"Yeah but investors want 10x returns. I am not ready to commit any numbers just because I don't know. And I really don't have the time and energy to make presentations and pitches. The problem is that the Indian startup scene is full of hustlers. They are after the Angels and VCs and the investors think they are celebrity. They don't even reply to emails. One of the Angel Groups wanted my presentation 'urgently', but there was not even an acknowledgement once I sent my presentation. You know what, if they need 10x returns on their money, they better respect my time.". My experience so far had not been very good.

"Get this straight, you are just a product guy and you should keep doing that. No product is going to sell unless you sell it. You need people who can close deals on the phone. You need to jack your price up, pad it for the extra sales costs. I know you have a really good product, I am using it myself, but its an ERP. It will take implementation and support and hence if you want to grow fast, you need to setup that call center fast.", M was really on my case.

But I was not giving up easy. "Why should I jack up my price? All the SAAS pricing out there is real nonsense and is huge bubble. You know a Macbook Pro with the world's best operating system costs you around $1000. An iphone costs a few hundred dollars. There is no way a simple SAAS project management, CRM or helpdesk product is worth hundreds of dollars a year. Also, I am very hungry to improve my product at the moment, because I know it still has a long way to go. Even if you plan works and we start selling a lot, its just going to increase our disconnect. We need the product to improve first, the sales will happen automatically."

We left it at that. Internally I knew he had a point, but that was not the path I was on. As long as we paid the bills, money making is really not the objective right now. Its improving the product. 80% of my effort goes there. I know we are in a real good market because of the quality of leads we get, and the lack of real competition, but there is still a long way to go.

p.s. Secretly, I am happy that so many startups are raising funds, even if its for the humble helpdesk. They might just lay the foundation for more companies like us to build on. In meanwhile, we will just accumulate customers, features and steadily improve our product.

Rushabh Mehta

Rushabh is a software developer and founder of ERPNext. He usually writes about the startup experience, open source and the technologies he is working on.

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