You don’t build a business
You build People
and then People build the business
How it all started? As a one-man shop…
Saravana Kumar, a Microsoft MVP since 2007 in BizTalk Server, then Integration Services and now in Azure, has been working on Microsoft technologies from the early 2000’s. While working on projects related to BizTalk server administration and maintenance, he has been blogging on BizTalk server related concepts.
At some point in 2009, his interest turned towards building some tools to visualize BAM data and maintain the environments better. He started upskilling himself in Silverlight to build UI application for the same.
Silverlight on top of BAM data
My Silverlight Adventure – Saravana Kumar
His constant endeavor in building mini-scale projects for managing BizTalk infrastructure continued and it was at MVP Summit 2010 – Redmond, he discussed with few of the fellow MVPs about the developments and they all provided valuable input and encouragement.
“The initial idea of BizTalk360 was originated from 2010 summit while having dinner with some of the great BizTalk MVP folks in Redmond.”
Till today, the network of MVP friends, technology enthusiasts, Microsoft Product group are the source of encouragement in building BizTalk360 and the related business around it.
For almost a year, he was putting all these ideas together and giving it a shape. In 2011, BizTalk360 – Worlds first BizTalk production support and monitoring tool was announced to public CTP – Introduction to BizTalk360
“In 2011 MVP summit I demoed the nearly completed V1 product to the whole BizTalk MVP community and to some folks in the BizTalk product team, again got some great feedbacks on the things that are must have in the V1 of the product.”
User group Meetings, Events & Travel
The concept and Minimum Viable Product were then presented at various User Groups in London, Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, US, to Technology enthusiasts and so on.
BizTalk360 – Recommendation from Jan Eliasen
5 hours one-to-one chat with Charles Young
As the product was being given shape, some of the prospects showed interest to buy the product and by the time when the first public version of BizTalk360 was released, there were few customers already.
Winning our first Customer – All the way from Hong Kong:
In July 2011, BizTalk360 got its first Customer from Hong Kong. You don’t see that often winning your first customer, a large enterprise, and a complete stranger. A perfect example of “Product Market Fit” – Saravana never heard of these terms during that time, he was only focused on creating a useful product that will solve customers problem.
This passion towards the product and problem space is what contributed to the success of BizTalk360. He was actively involved in the core development of the product until version 6 or 7, dealing with customer support queries, presenting over 1000 demos. Even today when the team gets stuck somewhere deep technical on the product, they fall back to Saravana.
You can read more on the early timelines of the product here – BizTalk360 – 2011 Recap
Till this point it was all a one-man shop – all aspects of product and business was completely handled by Saravana Kumar, right from research, coding, product development, documentation, demo, promotions, customer support, production level trouble shooting, sales, license management etc.
Engagement with Freelancers
As the product versions was getting released and new features being built, Saravana Kumar engaged with freelancers to develop the product.
Then he went on recruiting full-time contractors and outsourced a few modules to be developed from India.
Full time employees at UK
As the product was getting matured, the interest in the market gaining momentum and with a handful of paying customers, he started looking out for part-time or full-time employees from 2012. Being a technology person and always wanted to focus on product and features, he decided to hire people to help him in Customer connects, License management, Account receivables etc.
Hailing from a small town in Mettupalayam in India, completed his graduation and did his first job in the nearby city of Coimbatore, he always wanted to give it back to the city. He also briefly tried to employ 2 people in Coimbatore by 2010.
BizTalk360 was developed in one of the rooms at Saravana Kumar’s residence in London. With his wife Gowri joining the ranks, and 2-3 people working from the home office set up and living room at his residence, it was from here; the customer connects, demo and all operations were carried out.
In the pictures above, early stage team members at the home office with Steef Jan, Microsoft MVP. BizTalk360 team at BizTalk Summit 2013.
The initial team members, all well set, fit into their roles very soon and the business started improving. Each member took responsibilities in addition to their primary roles and the activities done by Saravana Kumar in the past started to scale.
Sales picking up…
Members in Licensing and Account receivables not only followed up with customers but also performed Business development activities. They also upskilled themselves to present a quick walkthrough of the product. Thus, we started seeing an increase in sales.
A Golden Milestone, BizTalk360 gets its 360th Customer
The BizTalk Summit hosted by BizTalk360, over a period grew bigger and bigger with sponsorship from Microsoft and other partners, that eventually renamed to INTEGRATE, an annual flagship event of BizTalk360 which is by far the largest conference on Microsoft Integration Technologies worldwide – Journey to the INTEGRATE
“I’m proud to see how we transformed this event from a small one-day meetup into an international event.”
More product Specialists and Partners
Being a technology product company, it was necessary to evangelize the product so it can be well represented and promoted in various user groups, customer connect events, webinars, and various other forums. We introduced a special program called – BizTalk360 Product Specialists
Our partners are an integral part of our sales. Our team reached out to various consulting companies and technology consultants from different geographical locations to establish a profound business relationship and take our products to prospective customers.
Our journey in starting up in India is very interesting, when we decided to open India operations back in August 2013, the idea was to set up a supporting office for our UK team with about 10 people.
The aim of India operation is to strengthen our UI development, testing, and support. Core development will be based in our London office. We hired people who can form a team for themselves in the future. Our hiring process was very strict, and we didn’t rush. Over a period, the operations in India started to scale.
Collaboration between teams in UK and India
The teams in UK and India settled down well and we were able to make good progress.
We held our first UK and India team meeting at Coimbatore, India in September 2014.
Though it is a multi-cultural team, they bonded very well. We also made it a practice to bring India team members to UK to attend the integrate.
Also, the vice versa, team members in UK traveled to India occasionally.
After few years, as the business scaled, we thought it was a better idea to go for a company retreat to a tourist destination away from work. Along with these, the nature of business, the tools we used helped to improve the collaboration.
We had two such international retreats – one to Dubai in 2017 and another to Singapore in 2019.
How we experienced our Corporate Retreat in Singapore?
Different teams and Organisation structure
Few years of running the operations, product and businesses getting matured, we started setting up different teams that could eventually scale on their own.
“What was started a one-man shop has now become a land of opportunities.”
Our London office was more focused towards, Sales, Marketing and Business development. Saravana Kumar still continues to focus on product development and we had a couple of developers working out of UK office. The following teams were formed, and people were added based on the needs.
- Product Development – Engineering, UI / UX development
Involved in core product development, enhancements and new feature research.
- Technical Product Support and QA
They are the trouble shooters, provide first line support to our customers facing challenges in their production environments. They also involve in QA activities to improve the quality of the product.
- Product Consultants and Customer Success
Reach out to our prospects, provide them demo, present webinars to promote new releases, help customers with use cases etc.
- Product Marketing
Responsible for marketing activities by organising webinars, publishing blogs, newsletters, whitepapers, engagement through various forums and channels, user groups, reach out to International events etc
- Digital Marketing
Promote our products through all possible digital channels like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, YouTube and take care of Paid marketing campaigns.
- Licensing and Account Receivables
They ensure our customer environments are running with proper licenses for our products and help coordinate the payments from our customers.
- Sales Development Representatives
Responsible for prospect engagement to help the closure and increase sales conversions
- Corporate Branding
Promote our organisation through various channels and programmes. Engage with employees and exhibit our culture and opportunities to the outside world.
- Admin, Finance and Operations
With a lot of people and maturing business, this team is important to ensure the smooth running of operations.
We are constantly reviewing our goals, progress, and making necessary additions and changes to the team with more people being added and new structure.
Inspired by Technology product founders like Jeff Bezos (Amazon), Sridhar Vembu (ZOHO), Girish Mathrubootham (Freshworks) and few others, Saravana Kumar always wanted to build a multi-product company. With the success of the product BizTalk360 and revenue generated, he re-invested the profits towards new ideas. In the last few years, more than 4 ideas were tried, and few started taking shape.
But it was only these 3 products – Serverless360 (then ServiceBus360), Atomic Scope and Document360 that made it to the mainstream, with other ideas either shelved or deferred.
Serverless360 was built as a Software as a Service (SaaS). Though SaaS become very popular in early 2010’s, Saravana envisioned the idea of Integration technologies taking direction of SaaS in 2007 itself.
BizTalk in the direction of SaaS (Software as a Service)
With the experience of building multiple products by now, the necessity of user documentation, and the limitations found in the products already in the market the need for a new Knowledge Base product is born.
Though the concept was discussed at out Dubai 2017 retreat and Saravana already had prepared details of the product, it is a surprise to know that the idea could have already seeded during his early days of blogging in 2008 – Introducing biztalk247.com – blogdoc
An experiment to build a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) was mooted and hackathon was planned. Here is how we built the MVP for Document360 – Birth of Document360 – The Inside Story Behind Our 14 Days Hackathon
The new products brought the necessity to hire more people, opportunities for existing team members to scale to next level, and generate more revenue.
“As the organisation grew, every individual grew along with it in all aspects – skill wise, financially and experience. We always continue our journey with our motto #TOGETHERWEGROW”
With the love towards the city of Coimbatore (it is also known as Kovai), he registered the company in UK as Kovai Limited and in India as Kovai Systems India Private Limited. He always wanted to take Kovai as a brand to international level.
We were always known as BizTalk360, after our flagship product. With multiple products in the long run, creating an umbrella brand is a much better strategy than promoting our first product name as the company name.
Hiring model and Talent Acquisition team
Hiring in UK and India progressed in parallel. From the beginning, it was structured to have a core business development team in the UK and expand in India as required.
For the scale we were planning, we were recruiting lateral and entry-level professionals. We are so thankful that most of the people who joined us in the early stages and those who joined us later also continue with us in the journey.
We decided to hire fresh graduates and train them. As gratitude, Saravana reached out to the college – Sri Ramakrishna Mission Vidyalaya, from where he completed his graduation. The Director of the Computer Applications department Mr. Sridhar was very proud of his alumnus’ accomplishments and gesture to provide employment to his juniors. By then, they were running a campus-industry connect programme, through which we were able to recruit few students. They proved to be very valuable and we considered to continue the practice.
In the following year, we conducted off campus drives and invited a number of fresh graduates. When most of the companies were looking at grades and marks, we looked at a candidate’s capabilities and attitude.
We recruited experienced candidates as well as fresh graduates steadily. Members with experience mentored and guided the fresh graduates with hands on the job training, sometimes classroom training as required.
We reached out to various colleges in the following years, representing the organisation and to attract good talent. Saravana also presented a session for the fresh graduates – 5 things young people should focus on
MoU was also signed with one of the upcoming institutions in our locality – Sri Eshwar College of Engineering for running a Centre of Excellence and priority placements.
We also conducted placement drives at prestigious VIT university.
Recently, we formed a full-time Talent Acquisition team to speed up our recruitment activities. We have been recruiting for focused positions and reaching out to more colleges for fresh graduates’ recruitment.
Being a technology community-oriented organization, apart from hosting Integrate, we also run a regular meet up – TechMeet360 in India. We have a very passionate team that runs the events and got a talented line of technical speakers. This platform has gained interest with many and helped us in attracting a few good talents.
Currently, we have a number of open positions for lateral hires and internships. For more details, visit https://www.kovai.co/careers
Moving to bigger office spaces…
Our team in the UK and India were growing bigger.
In the UK, it was not practically possible to run operations from Saravana Kumar’s residence anymore. We had to look for a bigger space. After a short stint at an intermediate office, we set up a fully operational office in Sidcup, London.
In India, back in Dec 2013, we rented a small office that could accommodate 5-8 people and slightly expanded it with a nearby conference room.
In late 2014, when BizTalk360 crossed 250 Customer mark, we decided to scale up our India operations to next stage. After lot of paperwork and following up Government procedures, we rented 10 times bigger office space in one of the landmark buildings – TIDEL Park, a Special Economic Zone.
A Big Step Forward, Our Brand New Office Opening & Our Journey So Far
After 5 years of operations there, we are now shutting it down due to lack of space to expand further and operational difficulties. We will soon be moving to a much bigger facility to employ 250 people.
Today, we have various teams and each team is self-contained and were able to run and scale their operations independently.
We are on a mission to make Kovai.co a successful journey of their lifetime to many.