The Essence of a Product Building Firm

Featured next is Deepak Saibaba – Managing Partner – Exalogic Solutions, from Bengaluru, India here to talk to us about his product building experience

So do tell the readers about your background and your company

I graduated with a Bachelors in Information Technology in 2003 and started working for one of the biggest IT services firm in India which is Infosys. I worked both in India and the US for the first six years of my career in the ITIL process management arena. I then decided to take a break from working and did a masters in IT Project Management from Aston University in the UK. In 2014, I co-founded Exalogic Solutions which does products for educational institutions, with a friend in Bengaluru, where I serve as Managing Partner.

Managing Partner – isn’t that something from law firms?

It is funny that you caught that. I was watching the TV series ‘Suits’ in the days when we were creating the company and I jumped at the title Managing Partner which was associated with a lot of power dynamics in the series and was someone who handled just about everything in the company. I did not want to have a stereotyped title like CEO or Vice President etc for I felt those were too superficial for a startup. Titles apart I think I am probably a startup Product Manager.

How would you describe your transition from a software engineer to managing a startup which builds products?

When I look back now, I understand that it was an easy decision to make but it was not an easy transition. I was fueled to jump in because of the excitement that comes with being given the responsibility of a company. I had to really learn a lot and learn quick. With the backing that I had in terms of my previous experience and my education, it was amazing to see how much respect I garnered when I attended meetings with new or potential clients and I had to quickly learn how to translate that into viable business.

You said your company has developed products for educational institutions. Describe the evolution of your first Product.

In order to understand the evolution of our product, there is one specific incident I always recall. It was in the early days when we knew we were going to do amazing products for the service industries like healthcare or education or hospitality but we had not narrowed it down. My friend and I were at a Cafe discussing the pros and cons of every product we had in mind when her phone was ringing off the hook. It turned out that she had missed making her young son complete some homework given by his kindergarten teacher which was written in his diary. The gap in communication was so obvious at that moment and we decided that doing a product for such schools to reach out to the parents via an app would be worthwhile.

So if your company was to build a product that was to enable better teacher student interaction, why is your product like an ERP and not just a small communication app?

Initially we did put together a product aimed only at communication. But it sort of organically grew into an ERP because of the clients. By that, I mean our clients insisted that they wanted more. Some wanted an attendance module, some wanted a module that handles the timetable, some wanted fee collection done online, so we realized quickly we were not going to get away with selling only a communications module. We had to do more. So the big takeaway from this is: if we want to build a product, go with what the broader market wants, and constantly revise your objective and goals to fit the market needs. However the word of caution here, is that you should know when to say no, else you will end up with a monster that you cannot control!

What is the one advice you would give to a new team – to a new manager who wants to get into product building

It has to be design first. Nothing else matters if you have the design right. Everything fails if your product team is good and your finances look sound but the product has a poor design. And by design I don’t mean the UI, I mean the way it is designed to function. The functionality is the key. So you need to start looking at it from a good product design perspective from day one and have the right person for the task of owning the product.

Which is the best methodology of product development?

Going Agile for sure. Especially SCRUM.

Can we assume that you use Agile methodology for product development?

Yes and most certainly everyone else should. The days of waterfall development are way behind us. Good products can be produced by teams that are disciplined and structured. The methodology helps us save a lot of time and resources. I have seen way too much of waste in older methods. The next generation is not going to be happy with slow and cumbersome methods like the waterfall. The clients want quicker results and your employees want instant success. So deriving energy for fast paced action becomes vital. For example: I have come to experience that nothing can substitute a good scrum standup meeting. It sort of energizes the team everyday and propels the product building forward. And regular sprint reviews and such- Those really add a lot of ownership and responsibility element to each individual than a manager tracking everything via spreadsheets and in long closed door meetings.

To conclude can you comment about the last step in product building – that is the sales. Was it something you put your foot into?

Yes and it most certainly was not easy. I would always advice a person or team that builds a product to try and sell it too. Like any other startup we had huge challenges with stability in the initial period of our growth. I personally remember climbing the stairs to the principals office in innumerable schools. Some were impressed, some said they had seen better and some simply suggested improvements but did not take our product. But there was this huge learning curve associated with this experience for my team and myself. We all learnt more about client expectations and interactions in the initial few months than we would have in a different setting. With that unique experience coupled with a better product to present, sales picked up well by the third year.

Any regrets in building products?

Absolutely none. This was an eye opening experience. I think you scale the entire spectrum of IT when you are involved in product creation.

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