AMA: Arpit Rai on SAAS Product Management and Growth

B2B is more exciting to me. In B2C, there seems to be a huge element of luck involved. Note that I’m only talking about pure-tech B2C products like Facebook / Instagram etc. and not offline-online plays such as Uber, Flipkart etc. I still don’t understand why Instagram succeeded and another product then called picplz did not. For some reason, some B2C companies take off and some others don’t.

It can also happen that you end up investing a lot of time, money and effort for a B2C play and have nothing to show for it. Things are a bit different in B2B. If you’re solving a critical business problem, you’re likely to be successful. It’s a different matter whether you’re moderately successful or highly successful.

Lastly, B2C seems to be a winner take-all market. B2B, on the other hand, is very different where you might have dozens of competitors solving a similar problem and all of them doing relatively well.

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Back in 2011-12, I wanted to create products that would help solve the problems I was facing or that my friends were facing. I did not intend to make money out of these products nor build companies around them. Just wanted to create some interesting products. So I picked up programming and created a bunch of web apps like ghatiparty.com, bridgebill.com, ndailydeals.com etc. back in 2011-12. I had a full-time sales job then so I was doing all this after office hours and on weekends. After a couple of years of doing this, I thought I might as well be doing product management full-time given how I interested I was in creating products.

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Yes that is exactly how we build products at WebEngage. :slight_smile: We had to stop using the Theme aspect of the roadmap as things are slightly more chaotic given that it’s a startup so it’s difficult to work only based on themes. We built this model internally. I guess I was just looking for something very very simple and this model fit the bill perfectly. :slight_smile:

How do you deal with engineering team vs a sellu ceo? :slight_smile:
In general, it is difficult, given that customers will ask for anything and everything (and sellu ceo will be inclined towards adding more to get more $$).

Mostly these:

  • Strategy & Big picture thinking
  • Product sense
  • Structuring problems & analytics
  • Soft skills & communication
  • Attention to detail
  • Project execution

Wrote a blog post on a similar topic. See this.

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I’m extremely bullish on the SaaS sector in India. Don’t see any reason why we won’t have a number of Freshdesks and BrowserStacks in the next few years. Seeing a long list of Indian SaaS startups as you can see in this blog post by Avinash makes me very happy. :slight_smile:

A lot of people tend to ask this. Few standard ways actually:

  • Try to move into a product role in the current company you’re in if they have product roles. Best if this can be done.
  • Do an MBA from a Tier 1 college (ISB, IIMs etc.). For some reason, companies tend to be open to giving PM roles to folks fresh out of the MBA program, even though they don’t have any experience in it.
  • Work pro-bono part-time for 10-15 hours a week for an early-stage startup on their product. You can do this on weekends or in your free time on weekdays. Once you have done this for a few months, you will have something to show on your resume for your product experience.
  • Learn coding and design and build your own products. Basically build a portfolio that you can then show off to potential recruiters.
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I tend to analyze churn based on Who is churning and When are they churning. Based on this I then devise a plan of action.

The Who is churning part can be understood by analyzing/segmenting churning customers on any of these dimensions or a mix of these dimensions: Pricing Plan, Regions/Countries, Source of Acquisition, Size of Company, Industry etc.

The When are they churning part can be understood by analyzing the lifecycle of the churning segment.

Are they churning in the early stages? Maybe it is an onboarding problem.

If they are churning in the middle stages, problems could be any of the following:

  • Team adoption issues
  • Not using it regularly
  • Issues with product
  • Bad support/service
  • Cheaper competitors
  • Not enough RoI on product

If it’s in the later stages, it is likely to be an adoption issue, not enough RoI or maybe a recurring credit card failure issue.

I’ve explained this in a series of blog posts here.

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They are just excellent at spotting the most critical problems to solve for a customer. And their execution is flawless. You cannot help but love the product.

You have to genuinely understand the problems your customers are facing. The only way to do this is to speak with your customers on a regular basis. Indirect feedback through sales/success can only help to a certain extent. I have done both telephonic calls as well as in-person meetings. Nothing beats in-person meetings. The more customers you speak with and the more different types of customers you speak with, the more ahead of the curve you will be in your industry. In fact, whenever possible, don’t just always talk to existing customers. You should also be speaking with folks who never became your customers. Just helps to have different perspectives.

I wrote a long blog post on this actually. You can refer to that for more details. :slight_smile:

I do find the following list of questions very useful in validating whether a problem that a customer is telling you is actually a problem or not:

  1. When was the last time they faced that problem and how often do they face it? This helps in understanding whether the problem is occasional or if it is persistent. It might be difficult to build a business around a product that solves only occasional problems for a customer.
  2. How does this problem impact their business or how much time and money does this problem cost their company? This helps in understanding the gravity of the problem. Even if the problem is persistent, if it doesn’t cost the customer substantial time and money, he/she wouldn’t be that keen on solving the problem
  3. How are they currently solving the problem? Even if the customer claims that the problem is persistent and that it results in a substantial loss of time and money, a good way of further validating this problem is by asking this question. If the problem is big enough, the customer would already have some sort of solution to alleviate the problem. If there is no solution currently, then is the problem as grave as the customer is making it out to be?
  4. What are the problems with their current solution?

One huge difference between the two companies is that BrowserStack has thousands of customers but the annual contract value of each customer is not that high. WebEngage on the other hand has hundreds of customers but the annual contract value is much much higher. So one is a high volume, low transaction value business and the other is a low volume, high transaction value business. As a result, it was much easier to quantitatively measure the impact of various initiatives at BrowserStack. At WebEngage, it’s not that easy.

Another big difference is that majority of BrowserStack’s revenues comes from the US and Western Europe whereas with WebEngage most revenues come from India, Middle East, South East Asia and some from the US. There is considerable difference in how users in these regions behave.

No hacks for sure. :slight_smile:

There are a bunch of things we did while I was there to increase conversion and reduce churn. It will be too many to cover here. We did a bunch of things - made the free trial more restrictive, changed the content of the life-cycle emails to show more product value, changed the pricing plans etc. There are no one or two “hacks” that stand out. Of course all of this is from 2014-16 while I was there so things would be a lot different now.

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Hey Arpit, thank you for being here. Would love for you to share how you see the SaaS martech industry evolving with greater integration of AI & ML.

For an early stage edutech startup (which is a subsciption model for consumer - i.e. consumer saas) .- how would you recommend finding PMF within limited budget?

Do Indian companies believe in SAAS? Do they pay without ‘raising an invoice’? :slight_smile:

For a not-so-hard-core-tech PM, what would you recommend when it comes to understanding the AI/ML part of the product ?

Haha they believe in SaaS for sure. Payments are just minor hindrances. :wink:

I would absolutely love it if the market matures and we can demand payment upfront (this is common in the US). It would certainly make a lot of Indian SaaS startup CEOs super happy.

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Most important features tend to move the needle for you whether in the form of more sales, more conversions, more expansion revenue, increase in leads etc. So I suppose that is the ultimate criteria of the success of a feature.

However, not all features are disruptive in nature. Maybe there are a bunch of small UX improvements that need to be made to make the life of the customer easier. There’s no monetary impact here. But it certainly makes the customer very happy.

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Just the detailed spec actually. If its a complex feature then we also end up making PPTs to explain to the larger team what the feature is about (this is quite rare though).

Other than this, there’s just the product roadmap that we maintain in a Google Sheet.

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