The Journey of Kovai Ltd from Zero to Multi-million dollar revenue and building profitable products: Saravana Kumar, Founder & CEO, talks about the inspiration behind Document360, where Aaron Krall, a SaaS Growth Hacker hosted an Ask Me Anything (AMA) session with him.
At the start of the session, Aaron asked about the inspiration behind Document360 and the path that brought it to where it is now.
Here is the summary of what Saravana Kumar answered about the inspiration behind Document360 during AMA session, for those who missed the live session.
Document360 came out of our own pain points as we struggled to build a good documentation or knowledge base for our product BizTalk360.
The Founder and CEO of Kovai Ltd that builds BizTalk360 and many other multiple B2B products such as Serverless360, Atomic Scope & Document360 that solve the pain points of enterprise customers.
BizTalk360 is a product which targets for an Enterprise Integration, Microsoft BizTalk Server back in 2011. We decided to give in our expertise building enterprise product.
Addressing our pain points that we experienced in the last 4+ years and with an entire team of about 35 developers, we built the initial entity of Document360.
As of now, we have about 17 customers for this product. For other products, such as BizTalk360, our core product, we have about 600+ enterprise customers.
I launched the product around June 2011. I got my first customer from a completely unknown company in Hongkong in a couple of months’ time.
When I worked as a consultant between 2000 and 2010, I started my technical blogging back in 2003. I had about 15000 readers for my blog.
That’s huge given the lean market, so the time I launched, able to reach out to my entire audience.
I worked as a consultant for Microsoft Server product called a BizTalk server, the technology I specialize in. BizTalk360 is basically a value-added product.
In fact, Microsoft runs a program called “Most Valuable Professionals”. They award basically some of the top technical people in every category. I got that credential in 2007, especially for my blogging and community activities. That’s how acquiring initial customers happened.
As a technical person, I didn’t know anything about the business side, just generated an enormous amount of traffic through my blogging.
In fact, I never had a sales team for a long time, we just sold to whoever comes.
So, the Hong Kong company that I told, I didn’t know about them, but did a demo and sold it. Once I sold, then figured out it is one of the biggest casinos in Hong Kong.
So that’s how I ran an initial set up things. In the first couple of years nearly I focused purely on building the product, writing some blog posts, speaking in some local user and technical groups.
That’s how I constantly acquired enterprise customers all alone and in fact, I didn’t leave my full-time job until I had about 35 customers.
So, during the initial days, I started reading a lot of books as a starting point, watching videos and attended lots of conferences. It’s all completely self-learning.
But, I got my sales right away within a couple of months in a completely self-taught way.
I think I forgot to tell that Microsoft is our number one main customer.
We build a product on the top of Microsoft technology and they use BizTalk server across the world.
So, If you buy software or anything that transaction touches their server at some point and uses our product to manage and monitor their entire infrastructure.
Firstly, I hired one of my friend’s wife to do accounting work from our home. I converted my living room into a small office and then hired about five people to join the team.
In fact, interesting, I managed to convince somebody from Microsoft, an expert in this BizTalk server, to come and join us. We survived for nearly 15 to 18 months.
And as a bootstrap, that’s what I want to touch the point, always frugal, always sensitive.
So, that’s all you know stage by stage, it’s a slow process but never had any hurdles. I always keep at least a year’s funding in place that’s the principle to run the company basically.
Looking at Bootstrapping today, the landscape is completely different. I don’t think, what I did in 2012 is possible or chances of success low, as the competition intense these days.
Today if I am starting something now, if I am not having money, I think I’ll probably do a quick product-market fit and find some initial traction and probably go raise money.
When talking about Mentors, I don’t have one mentor always available, rather built a pool of mentors, like, Freshworks CEO Girish is one of my close friends, whom I met in a conference back in 2011.
Another person called Paul Kenny, famous in the sales segment whom I met in Business of Software conference and a guy from my previous employment guided me with my office lease problem.
So, I constantly evolve and find new people, yours is a good example right (mentioning Aaron Krall). I didn’t know you before six months, but now I have built up some relationship and trust with the person whom I deal with.
Earlier in my consulting days, we had a small user group of about 20 to 30 people to hype the community. and once in a month, we talked about a specific technology like BizTalk server.
Further, we expanded in the first year with a one-day event of about four or five sessions. I pulled four to five speakers and one person from Microsoft to do a keynote and that’s how I started in 2012.
So, we got about 50 to 60 attendees and I replicated that one-day event and I got lots of traction.
So, the following year, then we expanded it to two days and then finally to three days. Today, that event (INTEGRATE) is one of the biggest events for that Microsoft Integration community.
INTEGRATE is a premier international conference in Microsoft Integration space
Document360 is a new product and we have three products in the Microsoft Integration domain.
Document360 is completely a different story as I mentioned, building these enterprise products need a good documentation knowledge base and we struggled again and again.
We kept switching platforms from one to another every six to eight months and we realized a lot of trivial basic things missing pretty much in every product in the market.
Also, we found that Helpdesk software providers dominated currently, for whom the core of their services is not documentation purpose, and that’s why we thought, let we ourselves built this product
For BizTalk360 we knew the market, the audience, and how to reach out to them. You build up that network, know the entire industry and you post something you get the full reach. If I have to release a feature or something I know we can reach out to those people very easily.
But here, for Document360, we looked at all different channels and platforms that we never tried for BizTalk360. So, that’s where all those new kinds of learning coming and excite me right now.
It’s challenging and at the same time exciting as well because I didn’t think we would settle in a way. Now, we have built our teams and they do care of it.
The way I am operating personally now, I spent for every product an hour from Monday to Friday a week, an hour for Marketing, and Sales meetings separately, the rest of the time I focus on Document360.
I think getting into a brand-new market, a challenging task and at least in our case, we don’t have challenges on the technical side, in Document360.
So at least one part of the equation sorted, and marketing is the only critical part as mentioned. If you don’t have money, it’s hard work.
So, if you plan to bootstrap, you should really look at what I did for BizTalk360.
If you an expert in the field, you know exactly of what you do and you know the whole world looks at you as a real expert then your chances seem high.
But, if you saw somebody doing well and jumping to build a product out of the clue completely in a new segment as a bootstrap the chances of succeeding limited.
You need to build even reasonable sized product even before talking to people, what we try to build otherwise you know you won’t understand.
It goes back to Steve Job’s saying,
If you go ask your customers what they want, they probably won’t know
Sometimes you need to take that content and build everything.
So, a couple of products we went down that route to shut it down. Now, we have streamlined everything and brought it to four revenue generating products and made our products, market fit.