Hustling Hard to Build a $20K/Year Product

Hello! What's your background, and what are you working on?

Hi! My name is Apurva Udeshi and I am an entrepreneur based out of Colombo, Sri Lanka, with a degree in Computer Science from Imperial College, London. I am the Founder & Managing Director of Argent Capital (a structured fund); a co-founder of Avantrio, a machine learning and blockchain-focused service-based company; and one of the founding board members of the Lankan Angel Network.

But today I would like to talk about another company I founded (yes, I run three companies simultaneously!) called Zeptolytics, a technology startup focused on self-service data analytics and artificial intelligence (AI). Its flagship product Zepto, which literally means a factor of 10^-21, is a simple business intelligence tool (with AI) for small and medium businesses.

Our main aim with Zepto is to ensure that users can delve into the depths of data and make business decisions based on facts and figures and not just opinions. The real advantage that users have is the simplicity in which they can analyze their data using our AI platform. Think of it like a data scientist in your pocket! Zepto’s first version was launched in 2018, and already has customers ranging in multiple industries such as portfolio management, manufacturing, food and beverage, and trading. We have been fortunate to have some marquee customers on board like Kotak Mahindra Bank, First Capital, and Capital Alliance across the Southeast Asian region, and we now look to expand our presence in the US market by serving financial services in North America.

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What motivated you to get started with Zepto?

In spite of having a degree in computer science, I have always nurtured a passion for finance. After working in London for five years in the financial arena, I decided to start my own venture. Something that I am passionate about is bringing technology to its best use in the financial world. Data is the most valuable resource for any financial company and my goal was to ensure that even a small-to-medium-sized business should be able to gain effective insights from their available data.

As I mentioned, I run a structured fund that invests across private equity, listed equity, real estate, startups, etc. Most of my company’s decisions were based on my opinion and almost all the analysis was carried out on Microsoft Excel. I realized the value of available data and the need to use it to our benefit. As a startup, we wanted something simple, clean, and easy to use without the overhead of having trained analytics professionals, infrastructure teams, and support teams, so I decided to build a simple analytics tool.

It definitely wasn’t easy juggling between the different ventures I was involved in! Eventually, I had to take a backseat in my financial startups and let my team run the company on a day-to-day basis so that I could focus on building my tech companies, namely Zepto.

What went into building the initial product?

The initial Zepto team consisted of three members, with three goals in mind:

  1. Focus on building a simple product with AI-powered capabilities that can be easily adopted by small and medium businesses
  2. Get Zepto to the local market as soon as possible so that people could start using the product and give us their feedback early in the game
  3. Build Team Zepto

That last one was quite challenging, as I struggled to find young talent for a startup. Students fresh out of college were keen to get into the corporate world and were apprehensive to join a startup. We were finally able to hire highly skilled tech graduates who were eager to learn.

Our initial build consisted of:

  1. A simple high-performance tool which was able to crunch data within seconds
  2. Clean and easy-to-use UI
  3. The ability to create charts and visualizations by simply dragging and dropping variables
  4. AI-powered advanced forecasting

We got the team at Argent Capital to pilot Zepto and test new features as they were built. This helped us understand how we could improve the user experience, what worked and what didn’t from the user’s perspective, and how we could build in any more valuable features.

Doing this at the initial stage was very important since it helped us identify the market we were trying to target and also got us early and honest feedback. Even if it turned out that a feature would have failed with our users, we could figure it out quickly and with relatively little risk and work on fixing or improving it.

We also emailed friends and family in the financial and tech spaces asking them to try our product and give valuable feedback, with the promise of taking them to Sunday brunch if their input was added as a feature to Zepto. :)

How have you attracted users and grown Zepto?

When we were first looking to launch, we ran demos for folks in the financial services industry in India and Sri Lanka, and all of them were keen to start trial versions without any commitment of a paid subscription. Not ideal, but at least we had customers. We had close to 20 people on the trial version in week one and were focused on getting more, and hopefully converting them to paying customers. That same week, I was casually talking about Zepto to one of my acquaintances at the gym and, as it turns out, he was interested in having a demo meeting. Customers can turn up where you least expect them, so keep an open mind and always be ready to make a pitch. That acquaintance at the gym turned into my first batch of paying customers.

We continued to test run the product and probe the market in Sri Lanka and India to get more users and try to gain some traction. Trust me, it wasn’t easy! I would speak to friends, family, friends of family, random introductions, etc., to set up demos for companies where Zepto might be a good fit. By doing this, we got our first major clients in the Southeast Asia region.

Customers can turn up where you least expect them, so keep an open mind and always be ready to make a pitch.

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After this initial wave of users, we wanted to expand our geographical user base. To achieve that, we shortlisted four traction channels to target a wider audience. We are now using social and display ads and existing platforms like Medium, Quora, and LinkedIn to target users. Viral marketing techniques and a sales strategy that includes cold calling, demos for clients, and YouTube videos are all significant channels to obtain customers.

What's your business model, and how have you grown your revenue?

Zepto is a SaaS, web-based application and any user can sign up for a trial or paid version. The trial version is for a period of three days, after which the user has to pay to continue usage. We have a paid subscription model of $69 per user per month. A team package of $245 per month for five users is also available but was not originally on offer. The introduction of the team package helped us get more users and subsequently more revenue. We mainly generate revenue by means of paid subscriptions for an individual or a team.

pricing

One small but important tweak we made along the way was in our sign-up process. Zepto’s original sign-up process asked for payment details upfront, even for the free trial period, but this caused a lot of users to not sign up at all. We eventually removed this feature so users could sign up seamlessly without giving payment information, which boosted sign-ups.

A very good piece of advice that I received early on was not to give discounts or offer lower prices for Zepto, regardless of the number of potential users that might sign up as a result. A lot of companies wanted subscriptions at lower prices because they were bringing in more users, but we refrained from doing so because we didn’t want to devalue our product. It’s also important to ensure that you have good customer support throughout the customer life-cycle, not just during the initial stages when users are signing up. This helps boost retention and spread the word that you have good customer support.

Today, Zepto has an annual recurring revenue of close to $20,000 and has won several awards at various summits in the US and Sri Lanka, including:

  • Second Runners Up — Best Startup Product/Service at SLASSCOM Innovation Summit 2018
  • Finalist — 500 Startups (Batch 24) 2018
  • Winner — Pitchforce by PeopleConnect 2018
  • Great User Experience and Rising Star — Finances Online 2018

What are your goals for the future?

One of my goals for Zepto in 2019 is to gain traction in a wider market outside of Asia, like the US and Canada. I am also looking to add more features to the product, such as:

  • A consulting bot: A personal advisor that makes recommendations, suggests action items, and gives users reasons as to why insights were generated for specific data
  • Proactive alerts: Create customized parameters on key charts and get instant email alerts when the chart values hit the set parameters
  • Storybook: An immersive reporting platform where users can include their charts, insights, and narrations to easily share with their colleagues
  • Data connectors: Connect to third-party apps used daily such as Google Analytics, Facebook, Amazon, etc. directly to analyze data faster
  • Predictive modeling: While we already have a Time Series Forecasting Model, we are currently developing a Machine Learning Predictive Model that will have the ability to forecast using different scenarios. This will be a real game changer for companies as we find that a few of them are really looking for predictive modeling vs. more the descriptive modeling that the platform currently offers.

Have you found anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

Reading books has been very helpful to me. Understanding how to get the right product-market fit, how to generate traction, how to analyze the market, and reading inspiring success stories have helped me through my journey with Zepto. To name a few books: Traction by Gabriel Weinberg and Justin Mares, The Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt, Smarter Faster Better by Charles Duhigg, and Good to Great by Jim Collins.

Showcasing your product at a trade show or a conference is also very useful. It creates a buzz around the product and helps attract the initial customer base.

What's your advice for indie hackers who are just starting out?

My go-to saying [from LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman] is, "If you're not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late." For everyone who is trying to build the perfect product in order to launch—don’t!Get your product out in the market as fast as possible. It will help you find a good product-market fit, identify any leaky buckets, and give you a quick understanding overall of where your product stands in the market and what you can do to make it better.

Where can we go to learn more?

Please feel free to ask me any questions in comments below!

Apurva Udeshi , Founder of Zepto

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