From working for Zoho to working with Zoho
For this episode of Stories That Inspire, we’ve brought in Radha Rengachari, the founder of Spikra, to talk about her journey from being at Freshworks, to being a presales engineer at Zoho, to becoming a first-generation entrepreneur. Read her story of providing Zoho services globally and becoming a Zoho Authorized Partner.
Rithikha: Your journey has taken some interesting twists and turns. Could you please tell us about your beginning, before coming to Zoho?
Radha: I’ve been working in the corporate space for the past seven years. I began my journey in 2013, with an MNC. After a year, I made a switch and joined as a support engineer at Freshworks. As it was in its startup stage, our small team of three worked with the co-founders directly. This was an amazing opportunity because I got to work in their early stages of product releases. Though I was in support, I had the privilege of handling every customer-centric role—sales, presales, implementation, onboarding, and attending marketing events. After a while, I moved to presales. Being there, I learned how startups worked, and this shaped my career.
Rithikha: How did Zoho happen to you?
Radha: Being in presales, I wanted to learn more products. I knew about Zoho and was trying to join here for a long time. Interestingly, my interview happened on the launch of Zoho One! I expressed my interest in becoming a Zoho One consultant, and my mentor, Sai Venkat challenged me to learn 40 products in 30 days. It was an incredible journey and I was learning a lot. I loved my work so much.
Rithikha: So when did the spark of becoming an entrepreneur occur, and how did you figure out that it was the right time? What made you switch to becoming a Zoho Partner?
Radha: I’ve always been a free-spirited person, I love travelling, and I’m passionate about many things and often keep juggling between them. Though my mainstream was presales; I was a RJ for a while, then a Montessori teacher, a yoga trainer, and I’m an active NGO member. I have professional degrees in music, too. I loved my job but wasn’t sure of what my ultimate destination was.
Deep inside, I wanted to find my calling. I used the exposure to learning multiple things. I took a travel break and my friend came up with this idea during a random conversation. I thought, why not start on my own and do something I was good at, and still be a part of the Zoho family? I approached Tonia for a partnership with one deal and when she approved it, boom, Spikra was born with an investment of 6,000 rupees for the registration of the company. Since then there’s been no turning back.
Rithikha: Building a trusted team is vital for every business. How did you plan and source talent who were experts with Zoho?
Radha: This is challenging! I don’t specifically look for people with Zoho experience, though. When it comes to hiring for expertise, a lot of people drop off to join giant MNCs. I hire recent graduates. They’re enthusiastic and fast learners. Zoho is very easy to train—it just takes a couple of months. The difficulty now is to convince the talent to invest that time in your company, considering that it’s in a very early stage.
While hiring, I reach out to my friends. I believe that every woman has to feel empowered and should get an opportunity to get back to work after a family break. Three of my college mates are now working from home for us. The most interesting fact is that the last person we got on board was one of our customers. He was a Zoho specialist in a company, and then he expressed interest in joining us and he’s now with us full-time! At this point, we’re a full-grown team of seven.
Rithikha: Can you tell us about your business journey, and how Spikra has grown as a company in terms of business milestones, no.of customers, and revenue growth?
Radha: When I started, back in December 2018, I had one customer. By August 2019 we had 25 customers. And now we have 60 customers and six projects in progress. I have 2-3 customers each from Asia, Australia, the US, and Europe regions. I’m happy with the progress, and I’m grateful that Zoho has been a helping hand in sharing well-qualified leads.
In terms of revenue, we’ve done well. It has been steadily rising by 20-50% every month. We were initially working from my home, then a cafe. With a growing team, we’ve now moved into our new office!
Rithikha: Fantastic! New customer acquisition is a critical component of the recurring revenue business. What’s the lead-generation machine for Spikra?
Radha: Initially, customer referrals had my back. Conversion rates are high across all regions. Fortunately, coming from a presales background, I know how to nurture a lead.
There are still a lot of businesses that use spreadsheets, despite revenue in tens of millions of rupees—software is seen as an expense, rather than an investment. It becomes a mandate for you to build trust as an implementation engineer or a consultant. And it’s crucial to get them to trust the product. My standpoint is that we just have to do what is right for the customer, and be honest and transparent with them.
45% of my customers come back to implement another product with Zoho and give me referrals. I’ve got at least seven to eight customers just through referrals from existing customers.
Rithikha: Positive word of mouth is indeed a powerful tool! What are your best practices for a successful implementation?
Radha: Every project is designed with keeping the business and the product in consideration. I have an implementation plan for each of the flagship products, and I prefer taking things in an orderly manner, even when we have the entire business story and requirements in place. First, we have the data requirement templates, followed by process documents that can be translated into a blueprint. Considering that not every customer comes with a scope of work documentation, we build data requirement templates. We also share these templates among our partner family.
We usually set up the framework and then put in the sample data and ask the customer to test it. If the customer is willing to join us on the implementation, then we take three weeks to complete it. We also keep engaging with the customer during the implementation process. We get them on a call and tell them what we’re doing and how we’re configuring it. We also let them know how automation can be set up, and how a blueprint can help them streamline their process. Then, we give them admin training before we go live and clean up the testing data.
Involving the client in the implementation process, rather than sending them updates on what has been done, helps build their trust in the tool. Sometimes, there could be a problem with the process and not the product. It’s always advisable to take feedback from every single user when multiple people are involved. This helps in customer retention and opens up an opportunity to cross-sell or do internal process consultation.
Rithikha: In your business journey with Zoho till now, have you ever come across an interesting deal or a tough implementation? Tell us more about it.
Radha: We closed a deal last June with a customer named ICRA Analytics. They’re into financial and banking services, and they bought CRM. It was a time-intensive process, as the legal team and multiple other teams were involved in every single step. There was a lot of back and forth interactions happening. Their main reason for choosing Zoho was the audit log—with every single update, the value in the whole system is changed.
In Zoho CRM we don’t have a common pool of modules and fields where we can fix everything. We reuse common fields in every module. So we had to write a lot of custom functions. Adding to this, we didn’t have a cross-module program. The lack of a cross-module blueprint couldn’t be solved even with orchestration. This deal took a lot of time and is our toughest implementation to date.
Rithikha: Entrepreneurship, in general, isn’t easy. It takes tremendous effort in terms of prospecting, building a team, and managing the finances. It is a contribution to gender diversity. What are your thoughts there?
Radha: I’m a first-generation entrepreneur. I think it’s a myth that a middle-class family in India (like mine) would never allow you to start on your own, as it’s a very high-risk game. My family has been very supportive. One thing I consider as a blessing in disguise is that I don’t have any personal commitments.
Zoho One has been my virtual co-founder and has helped me to manage a lot of things. Being an accountant, my father took care of the GST filing and accounting. My product knowledge helped me handle the rest.
While embarking on this journey, I was dependent on my mentors, who were always a call away; my team, who are my backbone; and my customers, who are amazing—and last but not least Zoho. They’ve helped me learn a lot! I’m pretty bad at negotiations, so one of my customers with a sales background from the US ordered a book for me that was delivered to my office, here in India. We keep sharing knowledge, I teach them CRM, and they teach me negotiation!
But throughout the journey, for a long time, I wished that I had a co-founder. My advice to entrepreneurs would be to find a co-founder with whom you can brainstorm ideas, share the risk, and get support.
Rithikha: What are your plans for Spikra this year? Are you going to diversify your target markets and lead generation mechanisms?
Radha: We have a couple of plans lined up. We don’t focus on marketing, and now we need to start. I have plans to create content through a YouTube channel, which I’ll use to give updates on new features or particular functionalities. This will pave the way for a community discussion. By the end of this year, we hope to hit three figures, in terms of customers. A lot of our customers are in the US and Canada, and we’re looking forward to setting up another branch in Canada or at least have a talent working from there to support customers. We’ve also started working on industry-specific widgets in CRM. We want to focus on micro-businesses—this is something most partners miss out on.
Rithikha: What do you think are the essential qualities that you need to grow and sustain in a consulting business?
Radha: Being in the SaaS space, it’s important that you have a problem-solving mindset and good domain knowledge. One should be empathetic and a good team player. Again, being straightforward and transparent with the customer is crucial, as it helps build trust. You have to be very agile, always keep learning, and be updated.
We should stay grounded and understand what we’re doing; why we’re doing; and how we can add value to the customer and the product.
Rithikha: Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
Radha: I want to take a moment to appreciate the Zoho Partner event—Zoho Inspire. It’s been a fabulous initiative. I love networking and I’m looking forward to our next meeting. I believe that knowledge sharing is key, and our Partner community has been great with it. Unexpectedly, I have other Partners getting me projects because they need expertise. They reach out to me and we discuss the process and how to run a business. I have gotten a lot of connections through Inspire. I love our Partner community!