This week Jack Dorsey left the top job at Twitter, perhaps finally buckling to repeated calls for a "full time CEO" - in reference to his other role as CEO of Square.
His replacement, Parag Agrawal, is noteworthy for a number of reasons. He is a "techie" rather than a media-focussed operator; he is still in his mid-thirties and was just a regular software engineer when he joined the company ten years ago; and, above all, as Stripe's Patrick Collison has flagged, he is another member of a growing all-star cast of Indian CEOs running US tech businesses.
It's clear that the US is benefitting greatly from its brand ("The American Dream" is a slogan like any other) and liberal immigration policies of the late 20th century. But this piece isn't meant to be political: what we want to look at and celebrate is the growing influence of Indian-led technology businesses.
Esteemed startup accelerator YC has filled their recent batches with Indian companies, and with the right combination of capital (e.g. the new dedicated Bessemer fund) and talent (e.g. through companies like Passionfruit), the stage is set for decades of progress in the Indian tech space. But like all startup founders and operators, what Indian ones will find is that marketing and scaling to establish a foothold in one market in hard - harder still if your plan is to generate a foothold globally as well.
So what strategies and tactics can early stage Indian businesses employ to grow?
Let's meet the contenders
- Triomics - Clinical trials for 21st century medical innovations.
- Advantage Club - AI driven platform for driving employee engagement.
- Fampay - Prepaid Card for teens, loved by parents.
- Bikayi - Simplifying e-commerce for everyone.
- Vahan - Hire your workforce through WhatsApp.
- Akudo - A learning-first neobank enabling practical financial education for teenagers.
- Synapsica - A B2B health-tech firm that provides AI-enabled automation of diagnostic radiology workflow and reporting.Zolve - A cross border fintech that enables fair access to global financial products.
- Mosaic - Cruelty-free and natural products for beauty and wellness.
- InterviewBit - E-learning platform that helps young software professionals scale up their careers.
- GoKwik - Online platform that helps people solve difficulties with their buying experiences on e-commerce websites.
- Airmeet - An all-in-one events platform for virtual summits, meetups, and workshops that includes virtual social lounges for networking.
- Even - One subscription to cover all your healthcare needs.
- Slice - Redesigning financial experiences for Gen Z and Millennials.
Growth for early stage Indian startups
1) Play and win the organic game:
The acceleration of capital into the Indian tech system is going to produce an outstanding number of competitors. Categories which were previously untouched will likely have 3-5 new entrants, all flush with VC funding.
In the face of stern competition, the temptation and the wrong choice for a founder, especially in B2B, is to become over-reliant on paid acquisition to build an early lead.
Paid media - LinkedIn primarily - can be one component of the overall marketing mix as you scale, but if you're serious about building an enduring business, then you'll also want to develop your thought leadership through original, engaging content that builds brand and delivers high authority SEO backlinks. Long term, the ROI will be much greater and you'll be built on a sales motion which is underpinned by marketing whose cost cannot increase simply because a major player decides to outbid you on keywords.
2) Wear a brand identity befitting of a major tech player:
Too often we see Seed or Series A companies with branding that looks like it was done on the cheap.
The doyen of tech - Steve Jobs himself - was adamant that customers "impute" a lot about a brand from initial impressions - i.e. people do judge a book by its cover. One of the biggest misconceptions is that high quality brand identity work costs a lot of money.
Done well by a vetted specialists it costs less than $5k for all the bells and whistles, and it is the most enduring one-off investment you can ever make. You can read more about our suggested approach here.
3) Tighten your product marketing across ICPs:
Even if you're operating just nationally in India, but especially if your focus is international, you'll need to get granular with your product marketing to account for different linguistic and cultural nuances, competitor sets and customer journeys.
Our advice - slipping into a war metaphor - is always to attack and win one beach, before invading another. The least ambitious approach is to go after everything all at once to begin with; because you will nearly certainly fail as a business.
Once you've got your product marketing strategy in place, start sharpening your sales enablement material and your copy across your primary touch-points to reflect your initial customer persona: it's a kind of engine oil that will make all your conversion ratios move up and to the right.