Monthly Archives: September 2019

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  • Cloud telephony became the buzz and caught investor interest too
  • The communication technology landscape is also changing rapidly, from contact centres on the cloud to automated communication with bots

BENGALURU : The cloud communication market worldwide is projected to grow over three-fold from $1.36 billion in 2016 to $4.45 billion in 2021, according to Statista. This is not surprising, as enterprises shift to the cloud for flexibility, agility and a host of other benefits.

This is especially true of e-commerce businesses that want to connect with customers on multiple channels and contextualize their promotions. At the same time, startups targeting this booming market have to be nimble in adapting to changing needs.

“The ways in which cloud communication can be used by new-age companies continue to evolve as these businesses evolve,” says Karthik Reddy, managing partner of Blume Ventures, an early investor in cloud communication startup Exotel.

This makes it harder to create and sell new use cases because they’re not predictable. There are several moving parts in this shifting business landscape where innovations are happening.

CHANGING LANDSCAPE

The communication technology landscape is also changing rapidly, from contact centres on the cloud to automated communication with bots.

“Sometimes, it is hard to understand who is getting disrupted and who is disrupting. By the time an offering comes out, it has already become outdated,” says Reddy.

Just as personal calls are shifting to VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol)—such as in WhatsApp calls—business communication too is moving. The rollout of 5G networks around the world—with India planning an auction of 5G airwaves by January—will create a whole new universe of use cases for cloud communication. Mobile broadband bandwidth will expand so much that movies will download in seconds instead of minutes. It’s a game-changer for video communication obviously, but that’s only a starter.

“We expect billions of devices to come online due to 5G. Cars and homes are already being connected. All devices will become smart devices,” says Reddy. “This will open up a wealth of use cases and large swathes of data for startups to work with.”

LESSONS FROM THE PAST

Startups and investors alike stumble in times of rapid change—and unlikely winners can emerge. A look back at telecom innovation in India makes that clear.

The noughties were all about value-added services like ring-back tones and SMS subscriptions as mobile usage started to take off. Companies like One97, OnMobile and ValueFirst, which were able to partner with telecom operators, rose rapidly before tapering away or moving into related businesses.

SMS subscription used to be a big thing, with packages on astrology, Bollywood, cricket and devotional themes being the most popular, “the ABCD of business,” as Thiyagarajan Maruthavanan, co-founder of SaaS startup accelerator Upekkha, who earlier worked with iSpirt to help enterprise startups go global, says.

Then new players came into the picture. Cloud telephony became the buzz and caught investor interest too. But the early ventures were too constrained to evolve and grow with the emerging requirements of businesses. “Your business model was determined by the telecom operator you had to depend on for connectivity,” explains Maruthavanan. “Your fate was tied to what the operator would allow you to do.”

And yet, at a time when investor interest had waned, a bootstrapped startup like Solutions Infini came along with an SMS-based business. New regulations which made SMS cost jump several-fold forced it to diversify into unified communication with messaging, voice, and other channels. That was what new-age businesses needed, it turned out. Solutions Infini went on to merge with Ubiquiti of Italy in 2016 to become Kaleyra, which now on the verge of going public on the NYSE.

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Step 1: Assess Your Strengths and Skill Set

In this blog, we are going to see about How to start a consulting business with easy 9 steps. Often, consultants are hired to solve problems that businesses can’t solve themselves. Otherwise, why would they pay you, someone who doesn’t know anything about their company, to come in and tell them what to do? When starting a consulting business, it’s important to have deep knowledge in a specific area so that you can offer value to your clients.

There are many different kinds of consulting that you can consider for your business. For example, if you know a lot about computers, you can set up shop as a computer or IT consultant. There are also plenty of opportunities for PR mavens, accountants, digital marketers, and people who have a mind for business strategy. Assess your strengths to figure out where you can be of help. It’s also worth taking an objective look at any weaknesses or missing skills you may have so that you can work on filling those gaps.

Step 2: Figure out What Your Market Needs

Once you’ve identified your niche, think about what kinds of questions, problems, and pain points businesses in your chosen area of expertise have. It’s not enough to simply have a strong skillset and a lot of knowledge in your field. If businesses don’t have problems that your consulting business can solve, then you will find yourself treading water.

The best way to figure out what your market wants and needs is to ask. Start by doing an online search for blogs in your niche. What are the thought leaders writing about? Where does there seem to be a lot of confusion? Is there heated debate in any forums or comment sections over a particular topic?

You can also find pain points in your market by tapping your network. For example, if you want to start a digital marketing consultancy, then who can you think of that either owns their own business, works closely with digital marketers, or is a digital marketer themselves? Chances are, you know a lot of people. Ask them about challenges they face in meeting their short and long term goals. Then figure out how you and your business can help.

Step 3: Ride the Organic Marketing Train

As an independent consultant, it will be all on you to grow your client base and make sure the business rolls in at a consistent pace. This is best done with marketing—but as always, the best marketing is organic marketing.

Hopkins started her business with a simple post on Upwork, the freelancer site that a few years ago was less well-known and had, according to Hopkins, more lucrative contracts. Hopkins says her first client is still with her today, and she has grown almost exclusively without having to advertise.

“I’ve been very fortunate that my business has built organically. I don’t know if that’s typical, but my personal experience is that I do the best I can. I’m very honest, I’m ethical, I don’t overcharge, I’m willing to work within budgets, and that has led to a lot of organic referrals,” she says.

Business owners have two distinct advantages with organic marketing. One, business owners tend to know each other and can make referrals for you. Like tends to be with like, so if you work well with somebody, you’ll probably work well with one of their friends.

The second upside with organic marketing is the cost—there isn’t any. “I’m biased on how well it works for business, because it’s free,” Hopkins says with a laugh.

Step 4: Invest in the Tools of the Trade

Hopkins built her business with technological tools of the trade that let her forge and maintain connections with clients, prospective employees, and her assistant.

“I use three types of recruitment software—web-based software that helps you to post jobs,” she says. There’s MightyRecruiter, which has a system that feeds to Indeed, Monster, LinkedIn, and all the job sites you can think of, which saves time and concentrates applicants into one space. There’s ZipRecruiter, which is good for low-level jobs. LinkedIn has a two-tiered recruiter service for propositioning applicants or referrals.

MightyRecruiter is $300 a month, while ZipRecruiter is $1,000 for the year. LinkedIn’s RecruiterLite is $150 and Corporate is $700. In total, Hopkins pays about $500 a month for these recruiting tools, which give her access to people searching for everything from culinary jobs to data scientists.

Hopkins also recommends video conferencing software, at about $200 per year, for making a better connection with clients.

“They click in and they feel like they know me,” she says. “They know I’m 5’2”, big personality, blue eyes, talk with my hands, and they get all that even though I don’t have an office space.”

Beyond these consultant-specific tools, new consultants should also invest in the kinds of things almost all new small business owners do: develop a website ($2,000 for a great, navigable site plus around $200 for hosting), order business cards, set up an LLC (prices vary from state to state), open a business bank account and business credit card, and hire an accountant to check on the books and file taxes (around $700 annually for a small business).

Step 5: Staff Wisely

Whether you need (or want) a staff to help you depends on the amount of work you have to do. Working seven days a week and 12-hour days isn’t sustainable no matter how zen you might be, and is certainly a possibility if you’re successful at growing your company.

Hopkins personally doesn’t see the upside in taking on more work than she can handle at this point. She did hire an on-demand assistant, who lives overseas and handles the dirty work of consulting on a part-time basis.

“I can do the work with the client, get the spec [job description] together, and he can find the résumés, the people, the LinkedIn profiles, which is the arduous uphill battle, and I can outsource those hours to him,” she says. “He has his own business, as well, and we have a B2B relationship. Some months he logs 50 hours to me and some he logs none.”

She communicates with her assistant via Skype, since he’s an American living in Budapest. She wouldn’t normally hire someone outside the U.S. since “there’s a ton of talent right here,” but the two of them hit it off right away over Skype. She might otherwise hire an intern or two from her old graduate school to help with sourcing.

Step 6: Practice Your Elevator Pitch

There’s no use in having an impressive skill set, a rock solid marketing plan, and the most up-to-date tools if you can’t make and close the sale. Convincing potential clients to choose your consulting business starts with your elevator pitch.

Your elevator pitch should be a short and sweet explanation of your target audience’s problem, the solutions you offer, and how you are different from the competition. Although you may be very passionate about the services you offer and the industry problems you see, it’s important to keep your pitch to around three sentences max.

A big-picture way of looking at your elevator pitch is that it is your value proposition. Once you deliver the concise version of your value proposition and a potential client wants to learn more, you can proceed to tell your story and talk about your consulting services more in-depth.

Step 7: Write Client Proposals

Often, the final step in bringing on a new client is writing a client proposal. This tends to occur right before the client signs on, effectively closing your sale. As such, writing proposals is an important part of getting business for your consultancy.

Client proposals are your chance to illustrate how you can serve your client and solve their problem. As such, it’s necessary to be clear about what the project is, why you’re lending your consulting services, and when you’ll complete the project. It’s also important to be very clear about all the details that will go into the project, including deliverables, budget, and how you’ll measure results. Be clear, be convincing, and close that client.

Step 8: Set Your Pricing

Along with your proposal, you’ll need to include a price. When starting out in consulting, it can be difficult to know how to price your services. Luckily, Hopkins has a pretty easy formula to follow.

“When I first started moonlighting, I took my HR manager salary and turned it into an hourly rate. For a consultant, that’s undercharging. Now I charge double that hourly rate, and that’s been a progression,” she says.

When it comes to progressing past that starting converted hourly rate—because as an independent, you are assuming more risk and should be billed higher than an in-house option—Hopkins suggests showing clients just how much value you bring to their company.

“For [existing] clients I had… I made each of them a cost/benefit write-up to show them how much money they saved versus either working with a traditional recruiter or a different independent consultant,” she says. “From there, I told them my rates were going up 25%, this is the new hourly rate, and every single one of them said ‘done, fine.’ I just showed them the math. Now… I’ve only pitched clients at the new rate and no one has told me I’m overpriced. I’m probably still undercharging, but I like to work with small businesses and startups, and if I want to work with them, I can make it work. If they have a good mission and vision, if they’ll be ethical and treat the new hires well, I want to help them because I know there are a lot of recruiters and consultants that won’t.”

Step 9: Stay Organized and Deliver Results

Once your consulting business is on track, be sure to stay organized and deliver results so that you can get repeat clients and referrals. Staying organized is important to ensure that you don’t lose valuable information, deliver past deadlines, or forget to remind clients to pay you. Start by seeing where you can automate certain processes. Perhaps you can get paid electronically rather than by check or switch to an online bookkeeping system such as Quickbooks. Software such as Infusionsoft can help you manage your clients. If all else fails, consider hiring a virtual assistant.

Delivering results is a bit harder to give advice on, but very important to the vitality of your consulting business. Be sure to stay on top of industry trends, and to check in with your clients to be sure you’re delivering results that they want and that help their businesses achieve their objectives. If you successfully help your clients achieve their goals, then your consulting business will be set up for success.

 

Tax-Reform-Checklist

Have you filed your taxes yet? If not, you better hurry — April 17 is just around the corner. With the new Tax Cuts and Jobs Act that was put in place last year, taxes might seem a little scarier than usual, especially for small businesses. However, there’s no need to stress. Payroll and HR solutions service Paychex has come up with a complete tax reform checklist to make sure your business is fully prepared.

The first step in getting your business ready is simple: don’t panic. To keep yourself at ease, contact a financial consultant or accountant who can help. The next step is to understand your employees’ situations and how the new law affects them. Some impacted areas to keep in mind are individual tax brackets, personal exemptions, standard deductions, itemized deductions and child tax credits. This jargon might sound daunting, but with a few Google searches or the help of a professional, it’s easy to grasp.

Next, it’s vital to keep doing your research and understand your state’s policies and how they’ve been impacted by the tax reform. Make sure to thoroughly review the new policy changes and consult an expert with any questions.

To learn more, check out the infographic below.

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  • The online makeup and cosmetics segment has seen strong investor interest over the last few years
  • Purplle competes directly and indirectly with brands including Nykaa, founded by veteran investment banker Falguni Nayar

MUMBAI : Online makeup and beauty products retailer Purplle Purplle is in talks to raise up to ₹300 crore in a Series C funding round led by Goldman Sachs, said two people close to the deal, requesting anonymity.

Purplle’s existing investors, Blume Ventures, IvyCap Ventures and JSW Ventures, the startup investment arm of Sajjan Jindal-led JSW Group, are also expected to participate in the round.

Goldman is expected to invest from its growth and venture capital investment arm, Goldman Sachs Investment Partners (GSIP), said the people cited above.

While a Goldman Sachs spokesperson declined to comment, Purplle did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Purple sells makeup products and fashion accessories, as well as wellness products for men and women on its website. While it sells renowned makeup brands, it has also introduced its private label, which investors say, is already accounting for a significant chunk of its sales. It also provides makeup content and guided videos from bloggers.

In the current calender year, it is expected to generate about ₹300 crore in sales, said a third person, also requesting anonymity.

The online makeup and cosmetics segment has seen strong investor interest over the last few years, driven by aspirational millennial consumers with high propensity to spend, and broader and cheaper internet connections.

Purplle competes directly and indirectly with brands including Nykaa, founded by veteran investment banker Falguni Nayar, Sugar Cosmetics and skincare startup Plum, backed by Unilever Ventures, the venture capital and private equity arm of consumer giant Unilever.

While Sugar Cosmetics raised $10 million earlier this year from A91 Partners, Nykaa raised ₹100 crore from TPG Growth in April, at a valuation of ₹5,000 crore.

However, unlike Nykaa, Purplle is looking at Tier 2 and 3 cities for growth and to bring in a major chunk of its revenue, said an investor in Purplle, requesting anonymity.

“The market is also big enough to have multiple firms achieve significant scale, because digital-first cosmetic brands are only beginning to disrupt the market,” the person added.

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  • Indian small and medium businesses will spend $14-16 billion this year on digital technologies
  • Small businesses are transitioning from traditional to digital with the use of technology to conduct their business

Bengaluru: Startups vital for digitalization,  playing an important role in the digitalization of small and medium businesses (SMBs) in India, enabling them in areas such as discoverability, customer engagement, and digital transactions, and will continue to do so, says a study by global management consulting firm, Zinnov. The study forecast that Indian SMBs will spend $14-16 billion this year on digital technologies.

The Zinnov study pointed out that small businesses are transitioning from traditional to digital with the use of technology – smartphone, PC or Internet – to conduct their business. India is home to approximately 75 million such businesses that employ over 180 million people, the study said. Apart from traditional industries such as retail, manufacturing and logistics, new categories such as cab drivers, delivery partners, and media content creators are expanding the SMB base rapidly, and account for 10% of such businesses in India.

  • Digitally-empowered SMBs are leveraging a combination of connectivity and communications, transactions and payments, discoverability, productivity-focused technologies, and are starting to extend into the world of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Automation, and Internet of Things (IOT), the study said.

SMB digitalization has made rapid progress, with over 50 million Indian SMBs using digital technologies in their business workflows. The study pointed out that over 600 aggregators, many of them new-age start-ups such as Udaan, Oyo, Meesho, Ola, Swiggy, and Rivigo have enabled over 10 million SMBs across discoverability, customer engagement, and digital transactions, and will continue to play an important role in SMB digitalization.

Of the total digital expenditure of Indian SMBs this year, the spending on productivity solutions accounted for 40%, followed by connectivity and communication technology at 30%, digital discoverability solutions accounted for 20%, and 10% on payment solutions and applications.

The study also described the Indian government’s role in SMB digitalization through investments in building digital payment infrastructure, subsidies for technology adoption, and access to capital. Large enterprises are also encouraging their SMB partners and suppliers to go digital, and also investing in skill development and technology platform infrastructure, the study said.

 

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Tuebil enables buying and selling of pre-owned cars

Truebil has raised $27 Mn prior to this round

The company has developed proprietary tech-enabled evaluation mechanisms

Mumbai-based car marketplace Truebil has announced raising $1 Mn in a fresh funding round from Japan-based Spiral Ventures.

The company, which last raised $14 Mn in Series B funding in January, has raised $27 Mn prior to this round. Truebil said it plans to use these additional funds to strengthen the technology stack.

Truebil began its operations in 2015 being founded by Suraj Kalwani, Himanshu Singhal, Rakesh Raman, Ravi Chirania, Ritesh Pandey, Shanu Vivek, and Shubh Bansal. Truebil is an omni-channel platform for buying and selling of pre-owned cars. The buyers can shortlist from a list of meticulously inspected and certified cars and avail end-to-end services on their sale/purchase.

The company has developed proprietary tech-enabled evaluation mechanisms, which includes

  • Recommendation system for personalised user experience,
  • TruePrice to predict the accurate selling price
  • Procurement score to determine the right procurement price
  • Dynamic pricing to change the price based on a car’s demand in the market
  • TueScore, a rating meter.

The company said it is witnessing a 20% growth MoM with more than 3000 verified cars registered to its portal. So far, it claims to have sold more than 2500 cars in Mumbai only worth INR 87.5 Cr Gross Merchandise Volume (GMV. Currently, the sales rate in Mumbai is 125 cars per month.

Truebil said it is currently doing INR 350Cr of annual revenue run rate with an aim to grow 3x this fiscal.

Other major online used car marketplaces in India are Cars24, CarDekho, Droom, Quikr, Olx, Mahindra First Choice Wheels, among others. According to an IBEF report, the Indian auto industry is one of the largest in the world, accounting for 7.1% of the country’s GDP.

The report has pegged the Indian automobile market at $125 Bn. Out of this, $100 Bn is the estimated share of automobile sales and the remaining $25 Bn includes services. It is expected to grow at a rate of about 10% to a whopping $225 Bn by 2020.

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Superside Raises $3.5M, a startup aiming to create a premium alternative to the existing crowdsourced design platforms, is announcing that it has raised $3.5 million in new funding.

It’s also adding new features like the ability to work on user interfaces, interaction design and motion graphics. Co-founder and CEO Fredrik Thomassen said this allows the company to offer “a full-service design solution.”

You may have heard about Superside under its old name Konsus. In a blog post, Thomassen explained the recent change in name and branding, writing, “We changed our name and look to align with what we had become: The world’s top team of international designers and creatives.”

He told me Superside was created to address his own frustrations after trying to use marketplaces like 99designs and Fiverr. He argued that there’s a problem with “adverse selection on those platforms.” In other words, “The best people … don’t remain, because they don’t have a career path — they’re fighting with other freelancers to get the jobs.”

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Superside, on the other hand, is picky about the designers it works with — it claims to select 100 designers from the more than 50,000 applications it receives each year. But if they are accepted, they’re guaranteed full-time work.

Thomassen said the platform is built for large enterprises that have their own design and marketing teams but still need additional support. Customers include Uber, LinkedIn, L’Oreal, Cisco, Santander, Amazon, Walmart Tiffany & Co. Hewlett Packard and Airbus

In addition to choosing good designers, Superside also built a broader project management platform.

“We’re basically automating everything: Finding people, screening people, on-boarding, on-the-job learning, invoicing of customers, project management, all of the nitty gritty,” Thomassen said. “The only thing not automated is design — that’s where the human element and the creativity come in.”

Plus, Thomassen said Superside can turn around a standard piece of artwork in 12 hours: “Nobody else can do what we’re doing in terms of speed.”

The new funding comes from Freestyle Capital, with participation from High Alpha Ventures, Y Combinator and Alliance Ventures.

“We’re very much a mission-driven company,” Thomassen added. “For me, the reason to go to work in the morning is to help build an online labor market and create equal economic opportunity for everyone in the world.”

A software company that helps law practices run more efficiently may not be the flashiest business in town, but that’s not stopping some VCs from backing them with pretty high dollars.

Hence, Canada-based Clio Raises $250M (which provides that type of software) announced this morning it has raised a massive $250 million Series D round from TCV and JMI Equity. Clio’s platform aims to serve as “an operating system” for lawyers, offering cloud-based legal practice management, client intake and legal CRM software. The company has 150,000 customers across 100 countries.

The financing is roughly ten times the amount of venture funding that Clio had previously raised since it was founded in 2008. The company’s Series B in January 2012 amounted to a comparatively small $6 million. In 2014, Clio raised $20 million in a Series C led by Bessemer Venture Partners that valued the company at $110 million, according to Crunchbase data. The company raised a $1 million Series A in 2019 from friends and family and Christoph Janz, who was also an early investor in Zendesk and contacted Clio via a cold email after finding the company on the internet, according to Clio CEO and co-founder Jack Newton.

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The new round is “one of the largest in legal technology and the largest in Canadian history,” according to Clio.

Newton said his vertical SaaS company helps legal professionals be more productive, grow their firms and “make legal services more accessible.” It also aims to help clients find lawyers more easily and vice versa.

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In its first 10 years of operation, Clio has focused on building out its core technology to an industry that continues to rely on pen and paper in many cases. It has also aimed to make legal technology more affordable for lawyers to use.

Following the news, I spoke with TCV Principal Amol Helekar this morning. Helekar will join the company’s board along with TCV General Partner Jake Reynolds. He said his firm views Clio as the clear market leader in the legal tech space, which Helekar believes is “underused relative to the potential demand in the end consumer base.”

“This is a vast industry that has been lagging in technology adoption and there’s tons of opportunity,” he said. “We see Clio as a pioneer in cloud-based tech solutions for the legal industry that has seen exceptional organic growth.”

Helekar likened Clio’s trajectory to that of previous TCV investments such as Netflix, Expedia and Spotify.

“We feel like this investment can help supercharge the business so the company can double down and expand its advantage and capture share in a market that hasn’t yet adopted technology in a big way,” he told me. “They’ve been very capital efficient but this kind of capital can help them invest in go-to-market, build out their sales team and invest in a lot of product in addition to the suite they currently have.”

Last year, Clio made its first acquisition with its buy of Lexicata, a Los Angeles-based legal tech startup. The company plans to do more acquisitions with the capital, according to Newton. It also wants to accelerate product development in general and continue integrating with more apps. Since the company made the decision five years ago to expand its functionality through integration (it currently has partnered with over 150 apps), the company has seen accelerated growth, Newton said.

Speaking of growth, Newton would not provide any revenue numbers but said the company was scaling “rapidly” and had “roughly doubled its number of employees” to over 400 in the last two years. He also declined to comment on valuation.

The company also announced today that Mark Britton, who founded legal marketplace Avvo (which was recently acquired by Internet Brands), is joining Clio as an independent board member.