Surprise is a rock under which lessons are hidden. Don’t throw it away.
Scott Cook, when coaching product teams often asks this question: “What is your biggest surprise?”
First time I heard it, I marveled at the power of this question. Using this question is like the situation when the examining eye doctor puts that one lens which changes your blurry vision into a crispy clarity.
Last week, when Malavika asked me that question for Upekkha, I was stumped for a moment.
I had always believed that building a product business requires a different kind of mindset compared to building an IT services business.
In 2009, I joined a group of passionate folks under NASSCOM Product umbrella who all had worked in product building but were disgusted that IT services in India was hogging the limelight. We rallied to create a space for products, called it product working group, and declared the IT services mindset as enemy. Often quoting that Finacle never made nonlinear revenue and was trapped in the dollar per hour mindset, we did not ever want to engage with anyone from that type of organization.
We believed it needed a DNA change and that cannot happen.
When Vijay Rayapti, a close friend from that group, asked me to join his then services startup, I declined saying he has the DNA challenge I know of. I just did not believe that services and product can happen within the same organization.
Not only did he transform Minjar and built Botmetric, he eventually sold it in 2017 for a handsome non linear multiple. I cursed myself later for missing out that interesting journey with him. I am glad that I still played a role with the exit in that as an outsider.
My belief was challenged slightly challenged then. With the Upekkha experience it was fully shattered.
Founder of the fastest company to get $1mn in ARR was someone who ran an IT services company earlier. Infact all the founders of the three fastest to grow, came from IT services business background.
I had not expected this.
One of the startups was a mobile apps developer that moved to social media management space, another was a generic IT services provider doing multi-million revenue but decided to pivot to skill testing . The third one is one of the fastest growing in ad security space. My initial expectation of them was they would take the longest time and go through big struggle.
These has shattered my old mental model about there being a services and product DNA.
But so many have done it now.
Once is an anomaly, twice is a semblance of something, thrice is pattern or trend.
Prasanna K my colleague often says when you see a surprise that means your mental model and reality does not match. It is time for updating your mental model, not ignore that reality.
IT services founder can and have built successful product business. In fact the experience says that engineer from services company CTS or others have customer empathy skills baked in deeply. They are in constant touch with customers and developer deep domain understanding. What they have to be learning is not the skills of developing domain experience or customer empathy but the art of saying no when they develop products Engineers from product companies like build roadmap a lot from imagination on what road could the engineering possibility take. Therefore the roadmaps are not aligned with customer needs in their initial iteration. They have to spend a lot of time training themselves and building the muscle of getting customer empathy.
Therefore counter intuitive as it may sound the engineer who has services experience background spends lesser cycles in becoming better SaaS founders than those that worked in product companies.