Back in 2010 during the Global Microsoft MVP conference in Seattle, a group of friends were discussing the problems in BizTalk Server Administration space and we all decided to build an open source web-based admin console. However, that didn’t go according to the plan, the project died even before it started as no one committed to it. But due to my personal interest, I picked up the project and started working on it in my spare time mainly to learn the new web technologies.
In the following year MVP Summit (2011), I demonstrated the first version of the product to my friends (fellow MVP’s) and to the Microsoft BizTalk Server product group.They were amazed by the potential of such a tool and the value they can get out of it. Everyone provided candid feedback, the features they wanted to see and more importantly they wanted the tool for themselves. After my return, I spoke to my manager that time and requested to go part-time, I spent another 4 months polishing the product, addressing few bugs, adding core features requested and finally went to the market on June 2011 (exactly 7 years ago).
As someone who is coming from a purely technical background and with zero experience in business, I didn’t think too much about branding, company name, acquiring customers and all the bells and whistles that come along setting up a company.
The domain with .com was available, I created the logo myself using some open source tool, created a simple website and launched the site over the weekend.
Building a product is a relatively easy task for someone coming from a technical background.
This is where my blog came to the rescue. I was blogging since 2004 (for over 7 years) on topics related to BizTalk Server, I have written over 500 articles on this topic. I was also maintaining a community website for BizTalk Server (BizTalk247). The blog and community site were attracting the audience from across the world, I was not aware of the potential of the sites and the audience base. These days content marketing is a big topic, and companies spent a fortune on building a targeted audience, but in my case, I had the base even without realizing it.
When I launched BizTalk360 around June 2011, I already had an audience base of over 10000 subscribers to my blog (which is a big number given the niche market). I started writing a series of blog articles about the BizTalk360 and its features.
Immediately people started reaching out to me to know more about the product and try it.It took me only 4 weeks to get my first customer all the way from Hong Kong recommended by Microsoft consultant in HK.
From there the growth was steady and organic. I closed the year 2011 with 5 enterprise customers.
The proud moment for me is we still have those customers using and paying for BizTalk360, that shows the value of the product to the customer,
In between, I started investing more time on learning business skills slowly transforming from a pure technical person to business person. At heart I’m still a hardcore technical guy, I still write code (trust me). In the following year (2012), I went full time and slowly scaled the company to about 65 customers at the end of the year. I had a few freelancers working for me, but no full-time employee.
Our customer base includes some of the top brands in the world like Microsoft, Shell, BP, IKEA, Oxford University, Mercedes Benz, so on.
In 2013, I realized the potential of the product and I hired 5 people in the UK, converted one of my spare living room into an office space and scaled the customer base to about 150 customers by the end of the year.
At this point as a bootstrapped company, I started feeling the pressure of resource constraint on one side and not able to scale the team at the same time primarily due to cost reasons. As a product company, you are always experimenting with new things, it takes months (or even years) to get something materialized.
It’s important to keep your burn rate at a manageable level. People don’t realize how quickly the headcount will grow for a product company (engineering, QA, designers, support, licensing, accounts, customer success, marketing, sales, admin).
This is when I decided it’s the right time to open our India operations to grow the company, for being cost-effective and provide the right value to our customers. We mix our teams nicely between the two countries, certain roles which are more suitable for the West like sales, marketing, experienced engineering and accounts reside in the UK and we utilize the raw talent, the volume of resource at a reasonable price point from our India office for everything. Today some of our new products are 100% Made in India.
I spent considerable time in India in 2013 and by the end of the year we set up the India entity (Kovai Systems India Limited) in a place called Coimbatore with a small 600 sq.ft office.
One more proud moment for me, the early employees of our India team is still with us for over 5 years., I feel it as a big milestone, we must be doing something right as a company, given the opportunities for technology people in India, it’s not that easy to preserve good people.
In 2015 we moved to our India office to a bigger facility with approximately 6000 sq.ft (10x our initial size) a modern office and today we have over 40+ employees in our India team and 10+ employees in the UK team.
What is Kovai?
Even though people recognize us as “BizTalk360”, the registered company name was always “Kovai Limited”. I started the company back in 2009 (even before BizTalk360 was born) as an umbrella company for my freelancing work (I worked as a consultant). When I started BizTalk360, I just used the same company name rather than setting up a new one. In that sense, Kovai Limited will be a 10-year-old company this year.
From my name, it’s not that difficult to predict my origin is from India, I moved to the UK only in 2000. I come from a city called Coimbatore, which is also called as “Kovai” in short. When I was looking to set up the company, after looking at various names I just picked up Kovai, it sounded good, short, modern and created a sense of personal association.
Why the rebranding?
Over the 7 years journey, we have moved beyond BizTalk360 into a multiproduct company. This is typical in a lot of grown-up companies. Salesforce and Google are good examples globally and Freshworks from Chennai, India is another example. When you a start a company, you are not thinking too far down the line, your objective at that point is to somehow to get started and succeed. For the initial few years, the first product is THE company. For Salesforce it’s their CRM system, for Google it’s Search and for Freshworks it’s Freshdesk – their customer support product.
When companies scale to the multiproduct territory they typically take two routes. In Salesforce case they promoted their first product as a company brand, whereas in Google and Freshdesk case they came with an umbrella brands Alphabet and Freshworks respectively.
We felt, in the long run, creating an umbrella brand is a much better strategy than promoting your first product name as the company name. If you look at it, Salesforce kind of got stuck. Even though the company has grown beyond just a CRM company, people still associate Salesforce only with their CRM system. An umbrella company provides you an opportunity to create new products and get into new markets.
In our case, it’s a kind of an easy decision, the underlying company Kovai Limited and Kovai Systems India Limited was always there, it’s just a bit of rebranding exercise, creating an identity for Kovai and promoting it higher up.
Why a multiproduct company?
Typically investors do not prefer a multiproduct company (in our case we don’t have investors). They think you are pivoting from your original idea before seeing the success of the original product. That’s true , you can take a really complex big problem and put all of your efforts into solving that problem well and try to become a market leader in that category, most of the start-up’s go in this direction examples Dropbox (storage), Stripe (payment), Pipedrive (CRM), Chargebee (Subscription management) and many other examples.
In our case, going into a multiproduct company stem from some important thought processes. First BizTalk360 cannot be a company on its own unless we wanted to run it like a lifestyle business. Second, we put our heart and soul into building a great team, for us to keep them motivated and challenged we need to do something innovative and challenging. Third, we are very clear in understanding our strengths and weaknesses. The important mantra is –
Don’t build products that you can’t sell and Don’t sell products that you can’t build”,
Basically understand what you can build and sell. For us, we are comfortable in picking up problems that can be solved with a team of 15-20 people (2 pizza rule) rather than a team of 100-200 people. You need a different mindset running larger teams, it takes time, chances of failure are extremely high.
After so many experiments, pivots and failures in this journey, now we are comfortable with our 4 products (BizTalk360, Serverless360, Document360 & Atomic Scope). All of them are growing steadily, product-market fit validated and revenue generating.
Once our current products get stabilized and get into autopilot mode of acquiring customers, we will pick up the next product in the pipeline.
A new beginning
I personally feel it’s a new beginning for us. We have built a strong team, revenue-generating products, financial stability and a strong future forecast.
Last 7 years taught us enormous lessons, we realized in business the only way you can learn is by doing, no theoretical business study would have taught what we have learned in this journey. Every success, failures, every situation and instance taught as various lessons.
We are so excited than ever to carry forward our success, this date feels like day one all over again.
I thank my entire team and customers who stood along with us in this journey.