Building a defensible, happy company.

Our Story Feb 05, 2020

<Since our flagship product nTwine started seeing the daylight of development as well as go to market, we have been having a lot of discussions about the product, the whole concept of it and the eco-system around it, with a lot of stakeholders from present times, as well as would be stakeholders. This write up is from one of these discussions>.

Today’s a rather slow, gloomy day as I sit sick and restricted (did not feel like spreading the virus to everyone around) to my loyal recliner chair. While work takes a backseat on days like these, I believe for a founder these are perfect days to sit back, think about a lot of things which are incubated while talking to customers, stakeholders, team members and more. And most importantly use the same discussions to think, plan about moving to stronger grounds.

On most normal days my team and I are to be found at a quaint little street in Koramangala, Bangalore. Sitting around in our small 8 seater cabin with heads deep down in our dual monitors, bunches of paper plans & sudden noisy discussions (I seem to be at the root of a quite few of these) we might resemble an oddball set of college people working away at their startup from their dorm room. Nothing could be further from the truth.

We get out very rarely from HQ (as I call it), except to talk face to face to as many customers as possible and a never ending market product fit research. However as we started working on our flagship from December 2017 these forays into the outside world have gotten more frequent, with the range of conversations becoming more diversified.

Recently one such conversation happened at the CoWrks Foundry program. We were there for a final round of discussion before it would be either an yes or a no for entry into the program.

As we discussed passionately our plans for nTwine with the partners of the program, our discussion at some point of time turned to the topic of defensibility of nTwine against its potential global competitors like Shopify, Squarespace and the like.

  • *For those who don’t know and also for those who do, nTwine is a platform for helping an increasing mass of self-employed people/startups/companies worldwide set up shop (a store, a marketplace, a rentals application, an OTA etc) with zero code and zero technical knowhow.

Goes straight in line with our mission to enable human happiness worldwide by impacting pursuit of aspirations, learning and working.

Coming back to the discussion wherein defensibility of our product and company became the questioning line, although we were not explicitly told to do so, but this got us thinking and discussing rapidly right after the discussion. (after all what is a founder if she/he isn’t all ears for everything around that helps steer the ship right).

Considering defending the company and the product, against everything that might sink it has been one of the ways we have run Needle (the mothership) for almost a good 2 years now, this was a question area we wanted to address and do so quickly.

A defensible product or platform, for people who are new at this can be built in a diverse range of ways including but not limited to (There is a lot of gyaan on the topic but frankly this is what works for us. Also not really a fan of technicality driven gyaan. It either works or doesn’t) :

  1. The technology (Intellectual property and rights), which make your product untouchable.
  2. The team (Google being a live example)
  3. Extraordinary focus on customer happiness (Buffer is an example, the way it competes against the hoot suites of the world)
  4. Constantly bettering your innovation. (Keeping a hawk’s eye at the market would be apt)

However this once as part of our strategy we were focusing more on getting customers bridging the digital divide than on only the product. As part of it one of things we are doing is creating a cloud hosting technology which can manage the hosting of multiple apps/sites at as low a cost as possible. Thus bringing down the net cost for the customer.

But in the melee of it all the one thing I heard loud and clear from Nruthya (one of the partners) is that cost is not a defensible parameter. In my mind I completely agreed. Who would know better than a person who has been part of the e-commerce and enabling industry for quite some time. And who runs a software R&D service vertical fighting against the cheaply priced software services industry of India, still managing inroads to the best work there is to do.

Which is why as soon as we got back to base, I added a few more parameters into our product roadmap, Q&A document. (Yes, I do have one of those). These parameters make the job of balancing real paying customers who are the drivers of the product’s mission and building a scale and competition outplaying company much easier.

Here’s what I added:

  1. Market entry: Fledgeling startups or businesses selling on social networks today.

2. Market dominance/global competition: An enterprising network of backend and supporting technologies which could scale to enterprise customers while intellectual rights keep the major players at bay or join the party as customers. I can’t reveal the exact lines of what we have been building right away (because you know company secrets and the lot), however here’s a snapshot of one thing which showcases the demand of them, even in the circles of the biggies.

This snapshot is from Accenture’s page seeking out startups which can drive innovation to meet the demand, to apply for which we had an invite. (Look closely at the ones ticked in green. You will get the picture).

Now why did I act so promptly in adding the snippets of learning to my product document and my personal q&a document? Impulsive ain’t I?

Not really! In fact one thing we should never ever do is to take impulsive calls on most matters. Unless the environment of self rules is being limiting to the greater good.

For all those with dreams in their eyes here is one thing I have personally always followed: there is no sure shot gyaan to making it big. But the one thing which works is keeping your team, product & customer practices close to you and always on the path of improvement.

And although this was but a short discussion I do believe what works has to be seen as a takeaway from everywhere. Which is why I merely added and forward cycled our roadmap by the bit it was necessary to stay relevant. And did it swiftly after some good discussions with my co-founder mates and the team.

P.S: Why nothing could be further from the truth? Well lets just say we have taken our own sweet time building a team, making sure we are all in for the long, deep run. Kept sustenance as a big value to achieve our dreams and most importantly navigating the confusing lanes to building a company. So not really something that just goes fast and either succeeds big or burns out as a project.