From Several Failed Startups To Building A $960K/Year Enterprise BI Business
Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hello! My name is Nitin Sahu and I am co-founder of the open-source BI product Helical Insight. Our product is a B2B focused enterprise software product and it can be used by any company which is generating data and is wishing to generate insights from the generated data, thus making more correct data-driven business decisions.
We had launched our very first version in 2016 which was followed by more than 8 releases with additional features and capabilities. As of now we are on version 4.1 and working on our version 5.0.
We also have a very strong product roadmap which is defined which also includes integration and usage of futuristic technologies including NLP, Machine learning algorithms, statistical algorithms, UI-driven workflow, etc into our product.
We offer our product in a free version and a paid version. Our cost of the paid version is also more than 85% cheaper than other competitors' products. Our vision is to provide the most feature-rich open-source BI product to our customers.
We currently have 51+ customers who are using our product and they are from various sectors and geographies like a clinical trial, banking, pharma, manufacturing, education, call center to name a few.
Most of the clients are from US and India and then there are customers all across the world including Australia, Indonesia, Israel, the Middle East, Columbia, etc. Some of the client names using our product includes Cynet, Pratesis, Smiths Detection, Syntasa, Timetrade, Reify Health, Davis Standard,
Right now we are making $80,000/month and are growing.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I did my schooling from Nasik, followed by engg from Pune University and Post Graduation specializing in DW BI space. Then I worked for a few years in the DW BI space for a few MNCs.
I and my co-founder Nikhilesh Tiwari had done our schooling together. We always wanted to start something of our own and tried a few things but unfortunately failed. We had also started a healthcare IT company and tried to provide software products to hospitals, labs, blood banks, etc. But we didn’t have much idea about the healthcare domain (which had a lot of stringent regulations) and thus had to shut it down.
Build something in a sector wherein you know the pain points and how you can tackle those pain points. Otherwise, in many cases, the learning curve itself can be very long Our initial ideas were in domains in which we did not have much idea like healthcare and that was one of the main reasons for failing. When we started in a domain that we knew inside out we were able to taste success.
Having failed a few times we have had a good share of learning. Since I had been working in the DW BI ETL space for a few years now and knew the sector inside out we thought of starting a company in the same domain. That is how Helical IT was born.
We started the company as a pure-play services company and used to provide services in the domain of Data Warehousing, Business Intelligence, and ETL space, and that too focusing primarily on open-source tools and technologies.
During our first year of operations, we had raised an angel round of funding. This funding was done by one of our friends who knew us for a long time and had a belief in our vision. Since the investment came from a friend we were able to do the same pretty quickly. After raising this round of funding, we have been pretty profitable and did not need to raise any follow-up round of funding so far. Over the years we provided services to more than 80+ clients including some big names like CA Technologies, Tata Communications, Fractal Analytics, Technip, Government of Micronesia, Government of Marshall Islands, Government of Kiribati Islands, etc.
While providing services over various other BI products we felt the kind of issues and limitations which are there in other BI products and that’s what prompted us to start working on and launching our own Open Source BI product Helical Insight. Right now 51 clients are using Helical Insight on their production environment across various domains and geographies we have had 8 releases so far and we are working on a major 5.0 release.
We provide our product as a developer-friendly and extensible BI framework and that too in two versions i.e. a free version and a paid version. Our paid version is also almost 85% cost-effective as compared to other BI products without really compromising on the features.
Take us through the process of designing your first product.
We had launched our product as an open-source offering and there were a few reasons behind it. First and foremost we have been working in open source tools and technologies for a long and were very closely attached to it. Also with open source license will allow us to keep our product offering as less, thus would be able to serve a lot of customers. Also open-sourcing the software allowed us to generate a lot of interest amongst the developer communities as well as end enterprise customers also. Aside from being open source, we can easily integrate a lot of other open-source s/w and plugins into our product, thus making our product more and more feature-rich.
Our first version contained the bare minimum features like connecting to very few databases, a very simple interface to drag-drop and create reports with very limited visualization options, and exporting. This basic version we had launched and then we started adding more and more features. We have always tried to have shorter release cycles so that we can always iterate faster, get feedback faster, and keep on improving.
Being in the enterprise software industry we generally follow the SDLC (software development life cycle). Being a small company we have a more agile approach to the same which is mentioned below:
Identifying and prioritizing the features which are to be developed inside Helical Insight based on the customer's feedback.
Discussing internally and designing and fixing the components etc which are to be used. Also while designing we need to make sure that the clients who are using the older version should still be able to migrate and use the latest version. During this design phase also assign a specific timeline for implementation, testing, and possible release.
Once the design has been finalized then the tasks are divided between various team members i.e. frontend team and backend team. The actual implementation then starts. While developing the developers also do a certain level of testing at their end.
Once the frontend team and backend teams have done development then the code is fused and integration testing is then done to make sure that both the code work seamlessly with each other
After this is done, the testing team comes into the picture and they do end-to-end testing of the product. If any bugs are identified the same are informed to the development team which fixes the bugs. The bugs are also identified and prioritized based on their severity level and accordingly, they are fixed.
Then the product is released and we run a press campaign with details about our new features and capabilities
We also reach out to existing customers as well as the old leads with the new features, try to organize demo for them, and see if we can fulfill their requirement
Once the public release has happened we keep in touch with customers and collect their feedback, on any bug which they might encounter. Then in a few weeks, we release a stable version with those clients' identified bugs fixed.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Since we already had been working in the BI space and used to provide services to many customers (using other BI products), we already knew the kind of issues and limitations which were there, and with our product, we were able to provide a solution to those issues.
Never run out of cash. Always keep your expenses under control. Expenses can increase exponentially but not necessarily your revenues.
So once our first version of the product was released we had then approached those customers and showcased to them how our open-source BI product Helical Insight can solve their issues. This is how we got our initial set of customers.
In the meanwhile, we kept on adding more and more features into our product based on the customer feedback that we were getting. We also kept on investing heavily in SEO so that we can generate a lot of inbound leads. We had hired a few guys to just focus on the SEO side. Our SEO strategy was a mix of both content + link building. For technical content, all of our technical employees (and others also) used to provide one technical blog addressing a pain point which helped us a lot in increasing our site hits. The SEO team is involved in backlinking, tags, etc, and strategies to keep our rankings good.
We also keep in close touch with customers who are trying out our product to check if they need any sort of help or assistance while trying out. For many of the customers, we also started building the POCs as well so that they can get confidence in the product and the conversion can be faster.
As the product is becoming more and more feature-rich and matures the conversion rates are also increasing as well as the time required to convert is decreasing.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
We have been known for providing very high-quality support to our customers. We know that our product being a new product will take some time to mature. So we have been investing heavily in making sure that whatever help or assistance a client needs we can give. Client’s can be of different domains, with different kinds of data and different kinds of requirements from BI. For example, some of them required some special kind of chart customization, some wanted a new chart to be integrated, some support of the new database, etc, so we have always gone above and beyond what is expected from support and even have added features which are not directly possible into our product as per customer's requirement for free to keep them happy.
We have detailed training videos which we share with customers so that they can go through the videos and learn how to use our product. Apart from that we also provide training as well. Also for every customer, we provide a dedicated support portal wherein they can raise tickets for any questions or support which they need.
We have even gone to the extent of adding new features into our product in a short time because customers were looking for something like that. Aside from that, we are also investing heavily in our product team and making sure that every 4-6 months we have at least one release, and every year we have at least one major version.
We want to make sure that our customers can get the best features. While adding more and more features we are making sure that customers who are on the older version can upgrade without any issues or concerns. Aside from that, we also offer custom training to customers so that they are very efficiently able to use our product.
Also, we are adding more and more documentation, videos, questions on the forum, etc so that the customers who are looking for certain help or guidance can find the relevant information directly on Google without coming back to us as this can help them
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We currently have 43 resources and hiring aggressively. As of now, there are we are hiring for 5 different job postings and working in WFH mode. There are 7-8 consulting and development projects which we are always working on and as we are hiring more people we would be able to take up additional consultation and development work. We are also investing in adding more skillets which can be offered as services to customers.
We are working on profit margins of between 35%. Every month we are adding 1-2 new clients who start using our BI product. Many of them are also taking up our services as well. As the product is maturing we are hoping that the revenue margins will further improve.
In the future, we are also planning to open a few offices and have some partners across various parts of the world. We would be looking to get partners primarily in non-English speaking countries. We also plan to raise funding in the future which will help with our hiring, development, sales, and expansion plans.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
One of the main learning that we had was focusing more on hiring good resources. We should have put more and more of our time into hiring and training because if you have good resources they can take care of the company, clients, and growth. If we can go back in time we would put more effort into this specific aspect.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
- AWS and E2E for our various cloud instances
- Vtiger for CRM
- Zoho for accounting, payroll and email
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
There have been several books which are a good read including Show Dog by Phil Knight, The Startup Checklist by David Rose, The Lean Startup by Eric Reis, Zero to One by Peter Theil, etc. But no amount of theoretical knowledge and podcasts can ideally prepare you for this grind of entrepreneurship.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Some advice to someone starting as an aspiring entrepreneur:
Build something in a sector wherein you know the pain points and how you can tackle those pain points. Otherwise, in many cases, the learning curve itself can be very long.
Have patience. There is no overnight success and things take time. So don’t give up irrespective of the hardships and keep on fighting.
Don’t try to start alone, have more than one co-founder with complementary skillsets.
Never run out of cash. Always keep your expenses under control. Expenses can increase exponentially but not necessarily your revenues
Build fast and release fast. Do not wait for the perfect product/perfect feature.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
Yes, we are looking to hire for multiple positions which includes
- Java developer
- SEO Analyst
- Business Development Manager
CVs can be shared with HR on [email protected] and more details about the job postings can be found here.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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