(Note: The interview originally appeared on Mobisium Blog and has been republished with permission.)
Prashant Kumar Singh is Co-founder and Chief Customer Office of LeadSquared which was started in July 2011.
LeadSquared is a marketing automation and sales execution platform that helps businesses increase their closures, manage their pipelines, and attribute their ROI accurately and completely – to people, marketing activities, lead sources, products, and locations.
In a conversation with Mobisium, Prashant talked about his journey and shared some interesting tips for young entrepreneurs.
Q. Does being an IITian has helped you in your Start-up journey in any way?
A. Oh yeah, I would give a lot of credit to the kind of education and environment I got in IIT, though honestly, I was not a very good student. I used to be a very good student before IIT. I did not really spend a lot of time in getting grades in IIT, but I think the kind of environment you get, basically what IIT *brings* you is that you can do anything in life, it gives you a lot of confidence, you can go for say Ph.D. out of India, you can go for IIS, you can go for CAT, you can do a job, you can start a company I mean you see a lot of people doing these kind of things and you get a lot of confidence by seeing people similar to you doing amazing things. So, certainly, I will give enough credit to IIT.
Q. So, IITians never settle for 9 to 5 job and always think of doing 24 by 7 kind of job like Startup hi karna hai.
A. Startup hi Karna hai kind of culture is there in IIT, not really startup but kuch karna hai, something different. So, one of my wingmates, he actually started a company while he was in the third year and he sold his company while he was in the fourth year. So, when you stay with this kind of people you know that if you want to do something you would be able to do it.
Q. So, what was your plan while you were in IIT?
A. So, honestly my family wanted me to go for Public Services and try to become an IS Officer, so I am from UP, and this is in DNA of people who come from UP but I was very clear that I am not going to go for Civil Services, neither I wanted to go for any kind of MBA Degree. So, I did a basically an integrated Master’s Program of 5 years. I thought 5 years was enough, I don’t want to study anymore. So, I wanted to basically come to industry and learn. And then if required I would go for PhD. or MBA but first get the exposure in the Industry and then decide what to do. And this changes your worldview, I mean when you start working you see the practical applications of the knowledge that you have learned in schools and colleges.
Q. What should someone do if you are not able to find your interest or passion?
A. I think you can be a little bit methodical about that so you may not know what really is your interest but there could say 4 or 5 areas where you are interested. You can prioritize, I mean on the scale of 1 to 10 you can give 9 in Interest A and 8 in B. So, give it a shot, for say A, if it works out then go for it otherwise you can go for B or C. So, sometimes unless you do something you don’t really know. So, it may also happen you are very very interested but when you start doing it you feel like “No, this is not my thing.” So, I think it’s easy to pursue what you are passionate about but before that you should know what your passion is, right? So, sometimes you should experiment and you should not be disheartened if you fail, right? If you know that these are 5-6 areas that you are interested in, try with the top one, go down, you will find something, eventually, you will find something.
Q. What is LeadSquared all about?
A. So, LeadSquared is a Sales Execution Platform that automates the process of running sales for any organization. So, it basically automates the cycle of getting lead generated till it becomes the customer. So, basically a Company or a consumer may come to us with a Company’s website or may download an app and after that they may be interested in product or services offered by the company and they may submit the information. After that there might be based on what they have done on the website or google app, this company may want to some kind of marketing promotion on this lead and once it is qualified that there may be a sale opportunity, the salesperson or the sales system itself may start nurturing from the sales perspective and after sometime it may grow, so that’s the very simplistic way of lead capture to conversion. So, LeadSquared basically automates the entire process, starting from lead capturing to conversion. And we are popular where the Sales is very high velocity which means there are a high number of leads and many sales have to happen. So, for example Industries like Education where there might be 100s and 1000s of leads getting generated per day and you need to say do 100s of enrolments every month or it might be an insurance company where they have to say sell 1000s of insurance policy every month or it might be lending where you have to disburse say 1000s of loans every month. So, wherever there is high volume, high-velocity LeadSquared fits very well. So, that’s what we do. Using the software, the number of leads you can generate can be exponential. So, we are using the term squared, it actually resonates exponential i.e. your sales can be exponential by using LeadSquared.
Many of the transactions that you do for example taking a loan, I mean you don’t take a loan just by going online, if it is a very low-ticket loan then you can probably do but there is an interaction, right? There is a qualification, there is documentation all that happens right? If you are subscribing to an insurance policy there is an interaction, right? If you are booking a high-value travel package there is an interaction, right? If you are subscribing to a course there is an interaction, right? So, wherever there is a sales processing coming in the picture LeadSquared fits in very well. So, we have like 800+ customers across the globe. And many of these customers are in education, insurance. We work with some of the top brands in education like BYJU’s. Aditya Birla Captial uses LeadSquared. Bharti AXA uses LeadSquared. So, we have top companies in the respective fields using LeadSquared.
Q. What skills do you look when you hire a recruiter?
A. The most important skill we look while hiring a recruiter is whether the person is able to understand the job profile that we have. So, we are the technology company. We hire a top-notch people. So, if 1000s people apply to a technical role within the company, probably 5 or 10 would be hired. So, that is the kind of process we have. So, people with the mindset just sourcing the profile that will not work. We look for really understand and have skills beyond these Java, C++, .Net and all which everybody knows. But people who are able to understand the projects that people have done, when they look at the resume and the profile, whether the kind of work the person has done, is it meaningful, substantial, is it rigorous or not? So, we look at the person, whether the person comprehends the kind of job profile we have to offer. So, by the way, recruiters are very smart, they are able to ask technical questions on the phone itself and they are able to shortlist. So, the first round of interview is done by recruiters themselves. We do hire from college also, there we focus more on aptitude, whether the person has energy and those kinds of things.
Q. What is the strength of Team LeadSquared?
A. We are like 135 right now. We are headquartered in Bangalore. So, the majority of people are in Bangalore. But we have sales offices in Mumbai, Delhi, Pune, Hyderabad, and Chennai.
Q. What sets LeadSquared apart from its competitors?
A. I think we are very focused on solving the real customer problem, we are in a kind of in mission mode. We are in the mission of transforming the sales process experience. I think we are creating the category of software. So, 30 years back there used to be IP software which still exists, everything was possible in ERP and people used to sales management and everything in ERP, but then came out CRM. Now there are many companies offering CRM but still, people are unable to do meaningful sales with CRM. So, we are creating a category out of CRM and we are calling it Sales Execution Platform. We think that modern sales have to be done in a different manner, it has to be agile and companies should not spend many months in implementing the software for doing sales, right? It should be days or weeks. If a company decides to offer a new product, it should take months from IT Department to come up with the system that can enable the process for that new product. With LeadSquared it can happen in a matter of days or weeks. So, we want to transform the way the sales functions. We have basically thought of automating anything which is possible. So, we want salespeople to focus on real problems. I should not be looking on the calendar what I have to do today, my system should be able to tell. So, the way the consumer applications like Google Maps, Uber, Ola, WhatsApp, the kind of ease they have created in the day to day activities, similarly same kind of experience we want to create in software. So, salesperson should not spend his time in the activity which is less optimal for them. So, that’s our mission and we are very focused on the customers. We are not worried about the competition, we are not worried about the whole glamour, news/media about Start-ups. Even though we are a Startup we don’t say we are a Startup, we say we are a business. I mean it doesn’t mean anything saying that we are a Startup. We are a real business solving real customer problems and we want to keep growing.
Q. Startup is the new trend. What is your opinion on this?
A. Yes, it’s a fact. But we don’t want to follow any kind of trend or fad. As long as we are solving the real problem, the real business, we are humble, we are grounded, we are customer oriented. We are solving the customer’s real problems. You know LeadSquared has a reputation that our customers often say that no company gives the kind of customer service and support like we do.
We are a product company; customer service is just something that we offer our customers but we are so customer oriented that they have to say we are the best. So, my belief is that- Just be true, keep listening to customers, be focused on what you want to do in the long term. I mean our long-term mission is transforming the sales process and just stop worrying about or ignore everything happening around you.
Q. What was the most challenging part throughout the span?
A. See if you look at a journey of a company like ours, it is a journey of 10 to 12 years. Which will take the company to a level where found is may not be required. I mean eventually, you want to build a business which can scale on its own. I mean if I am not their things should not stop. So, it’s a grind actually, I mean in a positive way. You learn every day you get energy from your customers from your colleagues, your employees and you enjoy the process. The whole notion that you want to build Startups because you want to earn money I think it’s very short term. The fun actually lies in the process I mean once you get something you may not enjoy it anymore. But the whole process of going there having struggles every day having challenges. New challenges I mean it might be Technology, hiring, a tough customer. It could be scaled, it could be serving a new segment you know whenever you try to do anything new there is a challenge but the fun is facing the challenge and doing your best to overcome that. So specifically, in terms of challenges, I would say we have a dominant customer base in India like 80% of our revenue comes from India. India is in a stage when things are changing in a capacity to buy software. Traditionally people are of the mindset that software is free. Google is not charging anything so why are you charging. Open source is there and there have been pirated software’s. So, the mindset change is happening and we can see that. So, it’s quite slower as compared to the rest of the world. But we feel that it will change significantly in the next users we already see that change. A super challenge is basically the capacity to pay for that software. To be more specific, the challenge would be hiring, though we are country of a billion plus people and there are tens and tens software engineers coming out of engineering colleges in India and very very few are employable. And most people have taken that degree for the sake of it. People have B.E, B.Tech, M.E. So, we have a process of solving real coding problems. Most of the people just search on Google and type that code. So, we are like ok you have done that now solve that problem again in front of us. And people are unable to do the problem that they just solved using Google by themselves. So, you know very few people that come out of college are actually good and the problem is that all the good people are chased by all the big companies. So, you see that the supply is limited and the demand is more. The really talented people there really costly and if you don’t hear them you won’t be able to scale. You know this is kind of a revolving situation. And I think that would be a part of an evolving economy. So, it is a challenge but I don’t think it’s a challenge that cannot be solved.
Q. Where is the flaw in the hiring process, is it the education system?
A. I think it’s part of the culture. I think our society typically parents, my parents and the people that I interact with they have set professions, they want their kids to be doctors, lawyers. And that forces you to take some sort of a degree in that you might not be interested in, it might become useless for you. I think that maybe because it gives you an economic security but that thing will change with the economic growth. But if there is a society where people are free to choose what they want to do like let’s say somebody wants to choose arts, free to do Maths, free to do fundamental Sciences, free to do Computer Science. Then you’ll get people who are interested in the subject and a really good in the subject. I think the economy could be the reason or culture could be the reason I am not really sure but I think this is something that needs change.
I have two sons the elder one is in fifth grade and I and my wife have told them that they can be whatever they want. You want to become a Chef, you want to become a sportsman or an artist whatever it is that you want to do. Just make sure to be the best in that. So, I don’t say that just because I am from IIT you need to do it your stuff you can do whatever you want you don’t need to follow the same path.
Q. What do you do for fun?
A. I don’t work 24/7, that is what happens when you are a young co-founder. In my previous company that I founded, I used to work for 24/7. So, especially in colleges, people have a habit of working late and I myself used to be a nocturnal person. So, in my previous company Proteus we used to work till 24 we used to sleep in the office but as your company grows, as you get a family, your routine changes. So, you work within a certain duration of time obviously when the situation demands you do work late and you work on weekends but that is not a part of the routine sometimes you have to do it not every time. And you try to be most productive for the duration that you work in. And you also try to be as less distracted as possible so I usually shut down my WhatsApp because that is really distracting. So actually I don’t have a lot of stressful working hours but beyond that, I like to run. I do yoga on most of the days because my wife is a yoga instructor. I play badminton sometimes play cricket on the weekends so that’s all I do.
Q. Where do you think Leadquared will be in 5 years?
A. I think we will be a very dominant company. I think will be among the top 5 companies in the world coming out of India. So, I can’t exactly tell you the size but we definitely will be very very big.
Q. Any memorable experience in Startup journey for new Entrepreneurs?
A. Take care of the basic things in the initial years. This kind of a journey can be really really stressful. If you are not financially secure and your family is not with you then you can become a little detrimental. So experimenting is good but once you find that you have found something and you want to go about it for the next few years, just double check. Double check if it is going to impact your life. I mean ultimately your life is important. The most important thing is having a meaningful life. I mean it does not matter if you gain it by becoming an entrepreneur or by becoming a spiritual guru or by doing something else.
Q. Any major mistake you have made from which Young Entrepreneurs can learn?
A. Mistakes keep happening, mistakes have happened have made a lot of mistakes but the thing is I don’t regret making any of my mistakes. But I have a very fundamental ideology that I am responsible for whatever choices I have made in my life. So, I don’t blame god or any third person for any mistake I’ve made even if somebody gives me an advice then I blame myself for taking the advice. Because you know whatever choices I have made I made consciously so I don’t blame anyone.
Q. What is the future of Startups in India?
A. I think the future of Startups is very interesting. The new generation of people that are coming from families that have economic security. So, you know they don’t have to do it for the sake of money and experimenting with their ideas and some of them going to become a big company.
Also, earlier it used to be that if you’re not working for a big company then it is socially negative for you. You know even in my generation people were not getting married because they were not working for a company but now it’s cool.
So, you know when this happens some company will die some people will learn from the mistakes. But the future is very exciting I have met some people who are really young and full of energy. When you are young you have that thing where you want to change the world. And that feeling is required, unless you don’t have that kind of drive, you can’t make an impact.
So, I think India is in a great phase. Earlier today I was at a conference where I was told that 60% of the Indian population is under the age of 35. So, if that data is correct there are a tremendous amount of people who can do a lot of things. But I just hope that the country should not do something that makes a people go out of India to work. Because people get frustrated with the policies, with the environment and then people might go out of India. And these people will do wonderful things outside India. So, we should use our talent. People are enormously talented. And if those kinds of people are given the right kind of support by the government, by the authorities, by the society I think India can become a great country once again.