Any seasoned entrepreneur will tell you that a great product is only a battle half-won. Acquiring customers is at the heart of running a well-oiled revenue generation engine, especially in the face of stiff competition from giant corporate brands that leaves little elbow room for startups. While the entrepreneur is often a one-man army in the early days, as the startup matures, experienced business development professionals pitch in to drive smarter and steeper growth through a strategic proliferation of the customer base.
Meet Swapnil Patil, Principal Consultant for Sales & Marketing at FORMCEPT, who veered away from his erstwhile job at a reputed corporate to join us in 2017. Having pursued Bachelor of Engineering in Electronics and Telecommunications and then MBA in Marketing from the prestigious Indian Institute of Management (IIM) Lucknow, Swapnil brings to the table the perfect combination of technical acumen and marketing drive. Here, he talks about why donning multiple hats is indispensable in a startup, why business development in B2B startups is beset with unique challenges of its own, and how his time at FORMCEPT is helping him to grow and evolve to face tougher challenges in the future.
Getting Bitten by the Startup Bug
Back in mid-2017, a full year had passed by with Swapnil working as a Business Development Manager with a leading provider of global mobility solutions. But, in his heart, Swapnil knew that he wanted more. Set processes, fixed KRAs and pre-defined, time-tested methods were great initially, but such a secure backdrop did not challenge him to the core, thereby causing stagnation in his learning quotient. Around the same time, FORMCEPT was headhunting for someone to fill the shoes of a Sales and Marketing expert for their flagship product MECBot. Luckily enough, it was not long before the two found each other.
“Right at the beginning, when I heard about the product and the role, I realized that this was not going to be a cake-walk. That’s exactly what I was looking for - something to challenge me,” Swapnil recounts. “The idea of cracking the global B2B market with an innovative product that the co-founders were vouching for, really excited me. To me, it seemed like just the right opportunity had arrived at the right time. I have always had an appetite for calculated risk, so when FORMCEPT offered me the position, I accepted it with no qualms.”
Juggling Multiple Roles, Donning Multiple Hats
For Swapnil, the early glimpses of working in a startup appeared to be a mixed bag. Much of the chaos emanated from the lack of water-tight processes and inadequate delineation of roles. At the same time, he says, it also gave him a wider latitude to experiment and apply his own aptitude to the growth challenges that FORMCEPT was facing at that time.
“The key thing to remember about B2B is that unlike B2C products like Uber, Ola or Swiggy, where you can scale up quickly by creating more buzz, here it is pivotal to target the actual decision makers. Mass advertisement is not the most effective approach here. In the case of MECBot, the decision makers are the CEOs, CIOs and CTOs of the world. I realized that before facing them, I first needed to wrap my head around the product and understand it inside out. Here, Suresh [Srinivasan], our co-founder & CEO, has played a major role. He understands that with the sales cycle being as long as 8-10 months, business development for MECBot is a patience game. Unlike a conventional CEO, he is extremely approachable.”
Swapnil goes on to say how he worked tirelessly on understanding the technology and value propositions of MECBot in a holistic manner with the help of the co-founders as well as other key members in the team. At the end of about four months, he was well-versed with the various nuances of the product, the key competitive advantages that MECBot has over other solutions in the market and the pain points of the customers.
However, this was just the beginning.
The next challenge was to single-handedly juggle the roles of a lead generation specialist, a business development expert, a marketer and a powerful sales closer - functions for which there are usually dedicated professionals in large enterprises. Swapnil had to sail solo here, in sharp contrast to his earlier experiences. But, he acknowledges the tremendous backing he received from the leadership and the enormous autonomy that came with it.
“Obviously,” he adds, “startups don’t have unlimited oxygen to stay afloat. Funding is a constraint, which means that hiring a large team is not always an option. I had to manage with whatever resources were made available to me, but so did everyone else, including the co-founders themselves. We had a single, shared objective that kept us focused - grow FORMCEPT into the #1 augmented data management platform. Till date, it is this that drives us forward.”
Immersing in a Culture of Learning, Trust & Openness
Over time, things panned out faster than Swapnil had expected, as MECBot went on to receive more and more market validation from top-notch customers as well as awards and recognition in multiple platforms and forums - both nationally and globally. “I never have a day that is not full of surprises!” He exclaims. “And therefore, I never get bored. My work here takes me to prestigious events, makes me interact with the top brass in various organizations, gives me a great mix of strategic and operational exposure, and sharpens and challenges my thinking. There is as much ‘unlearning’ to do here as ‘learning’.”
Speaking of learning, Swapnil mentions how the open culture at FORMCEPT helps each one to bring to the table the best version of herself/himself. The weekly ‘Birds-of-a-Feather’ sessions, for example, are immersive experiences in technology and business strategy, not to mention the dollops of peer learning that happen throughout the week. “Everyone can express her / his opinions here, and if there’s merit to it, it will be heard. That’s for sure,” he says.
He emphasizes that one of the advantages of having a small team of just 20 people is that everyone knows everyone. While the team is extremely sincere and committed to work, there are occasional moments of fun and leisure.
Mapping Opportunities, Visualizing Growth
Rounding up the discussion, we ask Swapnil about his thoughts on the company’s growth path.
“I envision great strides for MECBot in the years to come. We have an excellent product in place, now we just need to get cracking at establishing a sustainable growth engine. More than outbound marketing, inbound marketing will be the way forward for us. The more ready-to-convert leads we can generate, the more effective and efficient our marketing process will be. We are already serving several Fortune 1000 clients and have been aggressively reaching out to highly targeted prospects globally. Even as I speak, we have multiple pilots and proof-of-concept engagements underway. Our upcoming pipeline of innovative products will add more credibility and technology muscle to our current positioning. We are shaping up really well and I feel optimistic. Obviously, no success comes without toil, but if you work hard, your efforts will bear fruit.”
Closing Remarks: Advice for Young Professionals
“Don’t miss out on the great adventure of working in a startup,” Swapnil says with unwavering conviction. “If you are not doing that, you are missing out on great learning opportunities and not doing justice to your potential. It’s easy to get complacent in a giant MNC, but it’s also difficult to stand out there. For a challenging experience early in your career, push your boundaries and work with ambitious, fast-growing companies like FORMCEPT.”