How Shruti and Rahil successfully grew zomentum from scratch to build a team of 25 employees and raise 4 million dollars in seed funding, despite Covid-19. A sneak peek into the ups and downs of our founders Shruti & Rahil in Zomentum's journey thus far.
Rahil: I have been coding since I was 15, and it's always been a passion for me. After graduating in IITB from the Computer Science stream, I joined twitter, wherein I had my first tryst with Partner Ecosystem (Ad-Tech Partners), I spent 3.5 yrs building twitter's advertising product. Post which, I joined Rubrik, an enterprise data backup company that worked very closely with the Channel industry.
Rubrik's impressive scaling achieved solely by their channel partners helped me realize the power of channels in the ecosystem. That's about the same time when Shruti had been working on the idea, and she pitched her grand vision of empowering the channel partners with a modern tool. She spoke about her sense of wanting to liberate the channel partners from their weak tool stack, which was regressive and painful for them to use.
Rahil: The moment she pitched the idea, it genuinely struck a chord with me, and I immediately agreed. Since we had already been friends, it made so much sense to start a venture together.
We had to deal with much confusion in the initial days and try to build a new product. A SaaS product is a long-term, up-front investment of your time and resources for the initial 12-18 months, and it may take longer to see positive returns. You also need a runway to spend money upfront with the confidence that it's going to work out.
Rahil : We initially went to Singapore and Indonesia, trying to target the Asian market and visited Cloud Expo Asia in October 2018, where we landed our first client. Two months after working with the client, we realized that the customers in the Asia market were not ready yet for the product that Zomentum was building, while customers in the US were ready to engage and use. We later realized the US target market made more sense, even though it's far away.
Shruti: Rahil & I are not from the industry, while that helps bring a new perspective, we looked out for a group of MSPs for feedback; whom we could trust to build an informed roadmap. We were lucky to have met with customers who were willing to share problems, and let us come up with a solution. On recalling that journey, I still remember how we spent sleepless nights trying to talk to as many customers as possible. I landed in NY, Rahil, in SF, and we covered both the east and west coast. We also went to Austin, Portland, Seattle, Nashville and any other city where potential clients agreed to meet us.
We posted problems on reddit. We DMed, and they were willing to talk to us.
The first MSP who spoke to us was from Portland, who gave us a sneak-peek into professional MSP sales proposals and educated us on the changes he wanted. We had another customer with whom we engaged on late-night calls in multiple instances for feedback. Gaining a customer's perspective greatly influenced our understanding of the problem.
We met Ted in the last leg of our US journey. We visited San Francisco, Seattle, Nashville, and Atlanta to attend industry conferences and speak with MSPs. In the process of meeting multiple MSPs and attending industry conferences, we met Jerry who heads ASCII. He connected us with Ted.
Each interview was structured to be three to four hours long, with even the shortest meeting being an hour and a half long. Ajay from Accel helped us with the questions by helping us put together a Customer Development Framework. Initially, The meetings were engaged with a PowerPoint demo, our designers put together a mock after every session based on the customer feedback.
We did our first webinar in April 2019 with screenshots and an InVision mock-up. Based on the customer response, we gained tremendous confidence that the problem was real, and people were looking for solutions. These customers were troubled that none of the existing solutions perfectly fit their use case. The run of the mill Horizontal tools didn't work for our customers, and that section of software lacked a modern tool that exclusively solved the problem for MSPs.
Shruti : I climbed the DattoCon stage in July 2019 and stared into the curious bobbing heads of more than 2500 MSPs. Though I consider myself to be reasonably confident on stage, being an outsider amongst industry veterans and a woman in a male-dominated industry did feel unnerving. However, the response was overwhelmingly positive, and I garnered much-encouraging responses from many potential customers and top MSPs in the industry. They particularly lauded our achievement at a young age, and some customers even exclaimed that Rahil and I are as old as their children!
Rahil: The design was the first function that we decided to build. Though the widespread assumption in technology entrepreneurship is to start with developing the technology function, I felt it wasn't the right way to go. We weren't one hundred percent closed in on the idea though.
We knew the market, we lacked the bright idea of a solution. Design is far more valuable because you can iterate in mockups. the customer gets to look at the product so that they can see iterations faster.
Shruti: We started doing demos in the middle of the night, even though I never had any sales experience. I took responsibility for showing the product to our customers and getting their honest feedback.
Rahil: Biggest bottleneck in product development is the tech effort, which is a time consuming process. We always designed first, spoke to potential customers, reached out to 200 customers, and closed 10-15 of them by just showing our MVP! While most of our initial designs were shot down, it proved to be the easiest and fastest way to get rid of the bad ideas.
We started doing “demos” in 2018 Aug, and we wrote the first line of code only after eight months of informed research. Even today, feedback from customers fuels product development. Our core product strategy is based on solving our customer problems by including first-hand customer information into the development cycle.
We are thankful for our initial set of customers who were okay when we asked for a six-month timeline to show the real product. This flexibility gave us the learning that It's okay to tell people we're not ready yet. Customers are empathetic and will support you.
Funds help with growth & hiring, and since VC led model of growth is one where you're expected to snowball, we knew we could thrive in a high growth environment.It also gave us the leverage to say no to customers who don’t fit into our ideal persona.
However, VC is not a prize or reward, but a stepping stone to the next stage of the journey you've chosen. For us, it was building Zomentum into a large company very quickly.
Rahil: My perspective was mainly in Product & Tech, my role in Fundraising was to give investors confidence that it works. I was the person explaining why it's working, why it's sellable, and gave them the confidence that they have the right product to ship to their customer base. I had it relatively easy, attended second or third meetings, and answered questions around product or Tech.
To give credit to Alok from SAIF partners, he and I got introduced in 2018 and have been in touch with each other ever since; that's how we were able to know each other better. Fostering that relationship helped us show him timely progress. He always believed in our vision and trusted our execution capabilities.
Even though we were able to pay a decent wage, we had no personal brand, no customers, and nothing to show to a potential candidate when we went out for recruiting. In retrospect, we are thankful to the first designer who took the plunge with us!
We messaged multiple people on LinkedIn and received no answer.
After the first design hire via LinkedIn, we slowly found our other candidates from other sources, such as referrals and acquaintances. Our early learning was to cast your net wide and try aggressively. Find people with excellent learning capability. Hire them, give them the freedom to deep dive into the problem, and find the solution.
We first came up with the name Pactora, and however many people thought it sounded too much like a pharmaceutical company. The second time around, we did much research on the brand, still made many mistakes. Even though we were impartial, we went entirely wrong.
We followed all metrics such as how It should be short, easy to pronounce, spell, and needs to be .com domain. That's how we came about Zitto. We even marketed under the name for quite some time. That's when we started getting reports of customers not being able to access our domain. Initially, we dismissed such reports as false alarms.
After a little sleuthing we realized "Zitto" the domain had a history. In the early 2000s, it was an adult website, and hence was still blacklisted by many firewalls. We dumped the domain and we picked ChannelForce, which again didn’t workout, so we finally decided to settle with Zomentum to reflect the momentum that we bring into MSP sales.
We were on the lookout for an event within the Asia market.
Lucky for us, someone had dropped out from CloudExpo Asia in Singapore. We reached out 7 Days before, and we got a High-Quality booth usually reserved for big-ticket firms. The cabin itself was a lavish space in the center of the expo; however a bigger box meant bigger collaterals and banner requirements. We had one week to find a visa, design & print our banners and business cards. We finalized our marketing messaging overnight, and we gave it for printing.
We landed in Singapore a day before the event, and every other booth we saw was professionally set-up with multiple interns doing the work. Meanwhile, Rahil & I, with cellophane tapes and scissors in our hand, looked like we're preparing for a kiddie birthday party.
Even after we set-up the booth, we had to pull people and initiate conversations. We were asking them about the problem and tailored our solution to any question they had. We Just focused on making notes about what they said.
In our first CloudExpo Asia -We had our first designer wireframe our entire product with InVision and made it seem like an APP. That's how powerful design tools are today. We spent three days at an international conference showing hundreds of people a wireframe product and successfully got live feedback for the wireframe without anyone taking notice!
We took two two other employees, just to show an early customer that our company had more than two members. As we were giving the demo, they were fixing whatever broke in the demo product!
Our Early customer & first team helped us shape up the product and were necessary enablers to build Zomentum. Thanks to the initial set of customers who helped shape the product. We will continue doing this. Customers will form the center of our product growth. With the help of Ted, our Channel Chief; we put together an advisory committee with whom we showed our initial wireframes and took feedback. That's how we slowly reached version one of Zomentum. We pride ourselves in being a software solely built for the channel by the channel.
We are most passionate about having a very efficient workforce and a productive workplace. We don't believe in the Mythical 80-hour workweek idea. Humans cannot work efficiently for so many hours. A lot of the culture stems from trying to maintain a rapid velocity of execution without compensating personal life.
Aggressive candidates often talk about long hours that a startup requires for scaling and succeeding. However, we don't believe that. We often flaunt a lot that we will not work crazy hours. Some candidates get curious, while some get spooked out and get the door shown to them. We find a complaint culture extremely distasteful, and as a policy, we never blame the human, but the process.
We want collaborative work, and when mistakes happen, you blame the process and fix it. It gives confidence for people to take risks. So far we're very proud of what the team has achieved, as founders, you can only do five percent or lesser, while your team does the other ninety-five percent of the work. We hire talented and motivated people who are passionate and give them the freedom to thrive. It already shows from the speed of our growth; We started selling in Jan and have grown forty percent every month from then.
Rahil: The personal life of every employee is significant. I have learnt that. It’s super important to have a good time investing in your personal life as much happiness comes from there. When we started, I let my personal life go for a toss. I thought of work all day, went through a burnout and that's been a realization. If you don't give your own life enough respect, you will lose steam.
Shruti: Company building is a marathon and not a sprint. Don't discard personal life. Find ways for both to co-exist. It is a busy life, and it has little time. Figure out a way to take care of your loved ones, while also doing what you love.
We have a complementary co-founder & founder dynamic. It is an advantage, but not without its challenges. Neither of us has built a product before. It is an essential demarcation of responsibilities that worked out for us. Establish independent authority on how to function. One of us has taken over Sales & Marketing, while the other has taken over Tech & Product. Cleanly splitting responsibility is crucial.
We are almost there as an established company that will survive. We now become a growth story. Our journey now depends on how well we engage with customers. We're a global company in the time of covid. Companies are no more siloed and work from wherever and whenever. We hire exceptional talent wherever we find them. Team Building gets progressively more comfortable with a bunch of smart people who know what they're doing.
It's a rocketship, do come aboard if it excites you. There are many more milestones left! We're Incredibly confident and super excited to see you grow with us.