This article is a part of the series: SaaS for SMEs : ‘A wave to make Businesses Smarter!’
ProductNation interviewed Kameswaran Subramanian, Founder of ParaBlu Systems, which focuses on helping its customers take their business to the cloud. ParaBlu offers cloud storage solution with emphasis on privacy and control.
Learn more about how Kamesh and his team built a world-class product from India.
What was the motivation to start ParaBlu?
I love bringing new products to market. I have been doing that for over a decade now with other MNC’s and startups. ParaBlu is my second startup. I was technical partner of another Switzerland based startup where we developed products for Swiss Banks. The fundamental premise of starting ParaBlu is to start a global company from India.
Digital Privacy and Security is of paramount importance. I have tons of data and tried using many major offerings. But if you dig deep enough, we can realize that all of them have poor-to-none full user privacy. The recent revelation about NSA/Prism is only the tip of the iceberg. We wanted to provide a solution that can be used by enterprises in a manner they deem fit.
How did you zero in on offering Storage as a service to your customers?
The original idea was to provide a simple mechanism for people to seamlessly synchronize data (photos, videos, digital files, folders etc.) across all devices for an individual or family. We were developing the product for consumer market and lot of emphasis has been given on user design and simplicity of usage. We wanted to bring the cloud-storage into individual’s home. Towards end of last year, we saw an opportunity in the enterprise market. After piloting the product with businesses, we quickly realized that there is a market-fit and moved into SaaS model. We are now offering multiple variants of our products.
What is so unique and differentiated in your offering compared to others in the same space?
People think about Google Drive, Microsoft Sky Drive, Apple iCloud or Dropbox when we talk about Cloud Storage. They are public cloud storage and we are fundamentally different from them. For example, if you put a document in Google Drive, Google can read, create derivative works, publicly display and distribute the content. These are not entirely apt for businesses.
We offer private cloud storage to our customers with clear understanding that they own the data. ParaBlu offerings bring you the all familiar cloud storage, sync, share, stream and collaboration facilities with privacy and control that ensures that none of your files, media and assets are lost.
From technology perspective, we have had tons of breakthroughs and some key differentiators are mini-clouds (Cloud within a cloud), content search, end-to-end encryption, etc. We are also coming out with a plug-and-play hardware offering.
Key differentiators, which our customers love, are not from technology They love our extremely dedicated-customer support, simple and intuitive design, installation within 60 seconds, lowest total-cost-of-ownership in our space and ability to use a technology product without having to even have an IT admin. The most liked feature for an SME about our offerings is the ability for the management to see the entire company information (Engineering, Planning, Production, Sales, Marketing, etc.) with detailed auditing in a single place from anywhere in the globe.
Can you throw light on the interactions with your initial customers? What have you learnt from them?
A Lot! We spent a lot of time with our customers understanding how their business works. We spoke to 100+ SME’s during our pilot stage. Many of our features were driven by market. We use LEAF – Listen to our customers, Evaluate the idea with other customers, Analyze the results and then convert them into a product Feature.
For Indian businesses, technology is a means of achieving their business productivity. Their major questions are about how the product increases productivity, impact on bottom line and ROI. If a product genuinely solves their pain point, then they are ready to accept an IT solution. There is a dearth of high-quality cost-effective solutions for the SME sector in India. That is both a market opportunity and a saddening fact that mainly “service” and “outsourced” companies crowd Indian technology space.
Some examples of our learning:
- Many SME’s operate on low bandwidth Internet connection and we had to go-back and optimize data-transfer and network usage for them.
- Businesses don’t care if we use 128-bit or 256-bit encryption. They trust us to take care of their digital security. There is a huge onus on us!
- Customer support is extremely important. It doesn’t matter what your contract or SLA says – they need to speak to someone who can answer their questions, anytime of the day.
- What is obvious to engineers need not be obvious to users. Understanding customers’ psyche and working pattern is important. We ran usability sessions to make our product features easier to use.
- Customers found use cases for our product. We would have never thought about it!
Indian SME customers are known to be averse to embracing cloud-based solutions. They also harbor doubts about security of any offering, which is outside their organization. How have you dealt with these perceptions?
It is true that a large section of this segment is currently skeptical about working with something that is outside their physical organizational boundaries. However, I see that there is a rapid reversal of this tendency. This has primarily been due to the adoption of cloud by some early movers in the same clusters. As the fence sitting potential customer listens and understands the value and the precautions taken to safeguard the privacy and security of their data through another colleague who has embraced our solution – the acceptance levels increase.
Our offering actually provides more security to business – since its architecture was built keeping the retail consumers in mind. When you think of devising a solution that any end user could use, naturally you would place more emphasis on the access privileges, backup options, and data storage and synchronization aspects. Most of our customers are via referrals from other customers and it has become easier. For extremely paranoid customers or where there are specific requirements, we also offer on-premise installation of our server.
How helpful has the channels route been to work with your customers?
Working with channel partners is a new experience. If you can ensure that entry barriers to use your offering are minimal – such that value can be shown in minutes, and if the post deployment maintenance is negligible – both these factors form a very compelling value proposition for any channel partner to sell your offering.
We are also looking for new channel partners for expanding our product reach.
I notice that you have leading industry veterans as your mentors. Can you describe how having them on board has benefited you?
They have been of invaluable source of strength, inspiration and support. Nagendra Satyan has tremendous experience in growing enterprises and has done it successfully across many companies including EMC2 India. Anand Prahlad is currently MD of McAfee India and has experience of taking a startup to an IPO in US. Startup is like a maze and it is very helpful to have people who have done it before. It is necessary to bounce ideas off somebody. They have played a crucial part in multiple aspects – from refining the product, helping in acquiring pilot customers, industry connect, and so on.
I would recommend that all budding entrepreneurs, specially the first time entrepreneurs to have experienced mentors on board.
What are the three takeaways that you would provide for your fellow product entrepreneurs operating out of India?
First, get your family’s buy-in prior to venturing into product development space, especially when you operate out of India. Running a startup is like having a kid. There are no off-days or even off-hours. Everything else will take a back seat. Startups are not easy and are NOT for everyone.
Be very passionate about the idea. Startups do not succeed over-night. There will be too many distractions that will come your way and there will be times where it will be easier to give up and get back to work with an MNC. It takes passion to keep going.
Finally, like I stated earlier, get advisors and mentors early on. They will act as a rudder to your ship and will help you navigate the ship in case you land in chopping waters.