At The CoWrks Foundry, we stand for and believe in real insights and tough advice. Every week, our startups get a chance to interact with industry and global experts – the real operators – at the Founders’ Roundtable – an honest and intimate conversation with experts around building companies for scale.
Our startups have had the opportunity to liaise with these real operators on matters ranging from how to deal in enterprise sales while accepting rejections, evaluating business strategies to the basics of hiring people and building the right culture.
One of the first speakers at the Founders’ Roundtable was Madhav Krishna, Co-founder and CEO of Vahan – an AI driven virtual assistant that helps companies meet their hiring requirements quickly and in a cost effective manner. Vahan’s learning platform works on voice, SMS, and messaging apps like WhatsApp.
Bitten by the programming bug in his early teens, Madhav started his voyage with BASIC, before being intrigued by computers and how they could work in sync with human instructions. These early interests of his found a bigger canvas to experiment, when Madhav headed to New York’s Columbia University for a Master’s in Computer Science, with a specialisation in A.I.
It was in Columbia University that the entrepreneur in Madhav started taking shape. He was looking to craft innovations in the ever-changing tech startup industry. But most importantly, it had to be tech that could touch human lives. And that’s where the journey of Vahan began.
Our startup founders at The CoWrks Foundry had the opportunity to hear from him about his journey as an entrepreneur and the story of Vahan’s evolution for product market fit.
What do you think is the biggest challenge faced by B2B startups in the Indian ecosystem?
For an Indian B2B startup, I would say that the biggest challenge is finding what companies are willing to pay for. Following this, is learning how to negotiate on price.
“Haggling is part of Indian culture and therefore, it becomes important to assess your value and stick to it. If a business in India is willing to pay for your product, then you know you are on the right track.”
If I would have to give startups one word of advice on how to determine your value in India, it is to shy away from the concept of efficiency. Most software is built on the value proposition of efficiency and since labour is relatively cheap in India, efficiency is not a large priority for companies in India. Instead, find what you customer will be willing to pay for and determine your value through that.
How have VC’s/ Accelerators in the Indian Ecosystem evolved in the last 5 years? What should they do differently?
I have only been in India for two and a half years. However, in that short period a lot has changed and a lot still needs to change. In the last year or so VC’s have started getting more involved, but in general the ecosystem is immature with lots of room to expand. There is a dearth of knowledge-sharing and networking in the ecosystem. Improving that is what VC’s and Accelerators should do differently.
What’s the most important lesson you have learned from your time at Vahan that you share when advising founders?
I would say the most important lesson learned is being able to take a step back. Going back to the basics is important. Elon Musk spoke about first principle thinking. You tend to find good answers for problems like finding product market fit if you break them down into first principles — in this case building something with clear tangible value. If your product has a clear tangible value then it becomes very difficult for a customer to say no.
How would a founder know that he/she has found the elusive product- market fit?
Product market fit will always improve over time. But the biggest key indicator is when you see urgency and demand for your product. This comes from building something of value. As I said, once your product has a clear tangible value, it becomes difficult for a customer to say no.
“Once a customer is convinced of your product you will see a demand for it and when that demand becomes an urgency, you know you have the right product for the right market.”