Netcore International: An Indian SaaS MNC in the Making (Part 3)


IndiaWorld, my first success, was also an international success. Indians from all over the world had made our portals their content destinations in the late 1990s. Many of our advertisers were from the US – looking to target affluent Non-Resident Indians (NRIs). Netcore began with a focus on B2B communication and marketing solutions for enterprises in India. We perhaps should have ventured outside India much before we did. But we had to build a safety pool of capital before we took risks in new markets. That strategy has worked well and we now have the foundation for accelerating global growth.

I was reminded of this from a few years ago as I sat in the room listening to my colleagues: “In one of our reviews in Netcore after we had failed to show progress in our international foray, one of our Advisory Board members asked: “Why are you chasing Menaka?” Seeing my puzzled look, he said, “Are you really serious about your international efforts? Or are they just so some of you can travel abroad periodically? Right now, you are chasing Menaka – it’s an attractive distraction.” Under the leadership of Netcore’s CEO, Kalpit Jain, international is now a very attractive destination!

What has worked for us is the courage that a few Netcorians had to leave the safe shores of the home market and build their lives and Netcore’s business in new markets. We have found the right leaders who have, step by step, built trust and recognition for Netcore against competition willing to splurge money. Our email products worked as the landing points and then our customer engagement suite provided the expansion. Our three acquisitions in the past few years helped with personalisation, product experience (nudges), and solving the search problem for ecommerce sites. Our local teams experimented with the go-to-market until their messages hit the right chord. We organised “Hashouts” (conferences) to connect customers and prospects to each other. We learnt from our mistakes and shared these amongst teams to ensure we did not repeat errors. We thus created a playbook to enable us to expand faster to new markets.

The teams outside India work with “scarcity” – they do not have the full attention and resources that the India teams have, being close to HQ. In a way, that has worked well – because the teams outside India have learnt to do “more with less.” Their marketing innovations are now being replicated in India – much like global MNCs have taken their learnings from India to their home markets.

The two days I spent in Bangkok created some wonderful moments and memories: the camaraderie between people many of whom were meeting their colleagues in person for the first time, the spirit of sharing success stories and learning from the losses, and the bonding between sales and the supporting teams (marketing, SDRs, customer success). I left with the belief that “One Netcore” applied not just to our full-stack product but also to our people. Across nationalities, gender and age, they have united to grow Netcore globally. We have done a lot of the hard work across many markets, and are now ready for our version of exponential, forever, profitable growth. Netcore International is a triumph of the indefatigable human spirit of ceaseless exploration – and we have many new markets to conquer and many new customers to help in their profipoly quest with our Made-in-India, Made-for-the-World products.

Netcore International: An Indian SaaS MNC in the Making (Part 2)


The theme of the Netcore international sales conference was “Unstoppable”, and I built on it. I spoke about the need to set growth expectations not on past performance but the market opportunity. We had enough success stories that we could now start thinking bigger. Instead of thinking in growth percentages, we needed to look at multiples. In the red ocean of competition, we needed to create our blue ocean where we could create a repeatable sales motion. Instead of us chasing customers, we needed to get customers to chase us for the products which delivered great value to them. And to do this, we needed to change our approach – from thinking about our solutions to solving problems for our customers. We needed to move beyond thinking retention, engagement, and personalization to helping customers grow revenues, cut costs, and supersize their profits – laying a foundation for their exponential, forever, profitable growth. We needed to help them create the best moat in their business – a “profits monopoly” (profipoly). Our ProfitXL idea could help them do just that. A few slides captured this “switch pitch”:

The last point about Netcore’s profitability mindset got a rousing response from the audience. Our enterprise customers want profitable growth, and yet the vendors who are trying to sell to them remain unprofitable even after years of being in business! I have always felt proud of Netcore’s focus on balancing growth with profitability. Our bootstrapped nature means we do not face investor pressure to toggle from growth-at-all-costs to a sudden turn about cutting costs in efforts to breakeven and conserve cash. This is the same mantra which now resonates with our customers. It is a theme I have covered extensively in my essays on new ideas on marketing.

I then spoke about 5 Ms: a entrepreneurial mindset, a mission that thinks 10X bigger (moonshot, and not just roofshot), creating a moat with our progency approach combining product and agency, thinking monopoly in an account by using the full-stack of products we have to land and expand, and finally, making our demos magical.

I ended by saying that the next stop in our journey was to go from Unstoppable to Unlimited: unlimited growth, opportunities, and scale. And for that every Netcorian will also need to become better – learn one new thing each quarter to become better at what they do. Companies are people collectives. As they grow, so will Netcore and so will our customers.

It was one of my better talks in recent times. The occasion helped – I wanted to inspire the team gathered on to greater heights. They are on the frontlines, and if we have to grow 10X, we need them to up the game and create our unique space with product and service to deliver the profitability outcomes our customers want and expect from us.

Netcore International: An Indian SaaS MNC in the Making (Part 1)

Local to Global

As I rose to speak in a Bangkok conference room in front of the 60 Netcorians gathered from all over the world for our international sales conference, I was overwhelmed. My memory went back to the early days of Netcore more than 25 years ago – all of us working out of a small office in Mumbai’s Fort area. And here we were, people from 15 countries all gathered to celebrate a wonderful year gone by and look ahead to the future. Netcore has come a long way in the five years since we began our international expansion in earnest. After multiple failed attempts, we finally got our playbook right and tasted success. Each year we added a few new countries to the mix. Now, as I prepared to speak, seeing the entire international team (except North America which we treat as a separate geo), I realised that what we were really building was a B2B SaaS multinational – with roots in India and customers everywhere in the world. It was a proud moment for me. I was happy  to be in the presence of my colleagues who lived by the motto of “think global, act local.”

For the past day, I had heard many of them speak about their regions and how they had done. Southeast Asia and Nigeria were where we had begun, and then had expanded to the Middle East, and most recently to Europe, Latin America, and Australia. It was exhilarating to listen to how they improvised in their markets to fight off competitors and win the trust of customers. Many spoke about the culture of Netcore which gave them the freedom to be “entrepreneurs with a safety net.” While we do send people from India to the international markets, most of the team are local hires with a very good understanding of the language and nuances of doing business in their country. For decades, we have read about how the likes of Unilever, P&G, Coke, Pepsi, Nestle, and other MNCs have expanded from their home markets to conquer global markets. India’s IT services company showed the way in the past three decades in winning business globally. But there have not been many Indian product companies who have made a mark globally. SaaS (cloud software) offers Indian companies one such opportunity. In Netcore, we have been doing just that – having found success in India but also limited by its size, we have been working to expand globally.

In that room, seeing the enthusiasm, excitement, and energy in the global Netcorians, for the first time, I felt that we could truly build an Indian MNC. We have the product factory in India, and now we had the talent machine in Netcorians winning deals outside India and building their own mini “proficorns”. I savoured the moment, and then began my talk.

LEMMMA: A Playbook for US SaaS Success at Scale (Part 11)


Every SaaS vertical has eventual limits which put an overall cap on a company’s growth. This is where successful SaaS companies need to focus on using acquisitions to increase TAM (total addressable market). It is what Netcore has done with its three recent acquisitions: Boxx to enhance its personalisation offering, Hansel to add contextual walkthroughs and nudges, and Unbxd to add search and also expand in the US market. Building organically in the US would have taken Netcore a long time and hence the decision to shorten time-to-market by adding a complementary and customers to whom Netcore’s products could be sold.

Acquisitions have long been a preferred way of growth for many SaaS companies. Indian companies also need to use the playbook much more aggressively – but only after they have got a strong foundation and free cash generation from their existing products. This is what can then create the growth flywheel. For a brief period spanning 2020 and 2021, many SaaS companies (including some Indian ones) went on a hiring and spending spree in the race for customer acquisition and growth at all costs. The assumption was that valuations would stay high and cash was always available easily. This situation changed in 2022. Multiples shrank as did availability of capital. Investors now want to see clear paths to profitability. Here are a few charts from SEG (Q3 2022 update) which provide an aggregate analysis of public SaaS companies and how marketing sentiment has changed.

Jamin Ball’s Clouded Judgement newsletter (16 December 2022) shows the change through the past four years:

The fall in public market multiples will make its way to the private markets also. In 2023, profitable (and funded) SaaS companies will have very good opportunities to expand their TAM with acquisitions. For Indian SaaS companies, acquisition can be a very good way to accelerate US expansion – as an alternative to organic growth.


India’s SaaS story is still in its infancy. The US market is a very good hunting ground for both customers and other SaaS companies. The “product” gap can be bridged through SaaS – to complement India’s historical IT Services strength. Indian companies need to build scale – from $10 million ARR to $100 million and then onward to $1B and more. LEMMMA can offer a winning framework for Indians SaaS companies to conquer new frontiers in the US, the largest market and biggest prize.

LEMMMA: A Playbook for US SaaS Success at Scale (Part 10)

Moat and Monopoly – 2

Jasper Han writes: “Network effect, brand, and replacement costs are moats…[Also], for SaaS organizations, data is a critical way of increasing the replacement cost. Customers’ data created by your SaaS offerings is a valuable asset. Increase replacement costs by making good use of these data to provide greater value to customers… User behaviors are an unnoticed way for replacement prices to rise.”

Austin Yang discusses an ecosystem moat: “An ecosystem in SaaS is a group of related apps, 3rd party components, and content that seamlessly work together to solve user pain points. Ecosystems allow companies to better satisfy user needs and improve user experience. An ecosystem moat is a barrier that protects your product from the competition. It makes it more difficult for other companies to achieve product parity. Common levers used to build ecosystems include user-generated templates, experts, and plug-ins.”

Peter Thiel argues that a business must focus on building monopoly. He wrote in Wall Street Journal in 2014:

“Perfect competition” is considered both the ideal and the default state in Economics 101. So-called perfectly competitive markets achieve equilibrium when producer supply meets consumer demand. Every firm in a competitive market is undifferentiated and sells the same homogeneous products. Since no firm has any market power, they must all sell at whatever price the market determines. If there is money to be made, new firms will enter the market, increase supply, drive prices down and thereby eliminate the profits that attracted them in the first place. If too many firms enter the market, they’ll suffer losses, some will fold, and prices will rise back to sustainable levels. Under perfect competition, in the long run no company makes an economic profit.

The opposite of perfect competition is monopoly. Whereas a competitive firm must sell at the market price, a monopoly owns its market, so it can set its own prices. Since it has no competition, it produces at the quantity and price combination that maximizes its profits.

…In the real world outside economic theory, every business is successful exactly to the extent that it does something others cannot. Monopoly is therefore not a pathology or an exception. Monopoly is the condition of every successful business.

Tolstoy famously opens “Anna Karenina” by observing: “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Business is the opposite. All happy companies are different: Each one earns a monopoly by solving a unique problem. All failed companies are the same: They failed to escape competition.

For Indian SaaS companies, moat and monopoly need to be the twin endgames to establish domination. Each company needs to find its own path. Netcore needs to consider a B2B loyalty program crafted around Mu (Atomic Rewards) to build the moat and monopoly.

LEMMMA: A Playbook for US SaaS Success at Scale (Part 9)

Moat and Monopoly – 1

For a SaaS business to achieve greatness, it needs to do two more things: build a moat and create a monopoly. Moat is about ensuring that a competitor cannot replace it in the enterprise it has won. Monopoly is about dominating the revenues (and profits) in the vertical in which the SaaS company operates. These are critical for ensuring exponential, forever, profitable growth.

While a SaaS company works to chip away at switching costs to enter an enterprise, it also needs to ensure that it creates enough friction to lock-in the customer for the future. So, it needs to constantly think about how to build a moat for its own protection. Jason Lemkin suggests 10 ways SaaS companies can build a moat:

  • Brand.  Brand can be a big moat in SaaS.  Most customers just want to pick the app they’ve used and heard of.  We all underestimated this in the earlier days of SaaS.  There may be 100+ CRMs today, but most of us just want to pick the one we know.

  • Data. Data lock is real.  LinkedIn owns the human record.

  • Structured Data.  Even if data resides in many silos, structuring makes it unique.  Exporting your Customer records from Salesforce is a huge task.

  • Partners + Ecosystem. The top partners in the Salesforce, Shopify, etc. ecosystems do get most of the leads.  And this compounds over time.  The AEs, the biz dev folks, tend to send deals to the partner everyone trusts and knows.

  • Integrations.  Most vendors only integrate one third party in each category, maybe two.  Zapier is integrated everywhere.  Maybe 10x more than anyone else …  So also, build more of them.  Before someone else does.

  • Agencies and Implementation Partners. Third parties want to specialize in helping customers deploy just a handful of leading apps.  This is a big part of Hubspot’s GTM, and of many in the Shopify ecosystem.  Own the agency relationships, and it’s really tough for others to break in, absent strong organic customer demand.  No one ever got fired here for deploying a market leader …

  • Long-Term Contracts. Yes, we hate this.  But getting customers to sign 3+ year contracts does work.  Not perfect.  You can buy out these contracts, and break them.  But 3-year contracts are a partial moat.

  • Using Massive Amounts of Capital To Play In Every Segment.  Dominant-dominant strategy is tough to play well, but being in every single segment when the competition can’t afford to be is a form of moat.

  • “Most Enterprise” Vendor. If you are the most secured, most trusted, most 2FA, most HIPAA, most SOC-2, most everything vendor … you will win where that matters.  And it matters a lot in the enterprise.

  • No Contract At All.  Yes, a long-term contract is a “stick” moat.  But there’s a “carrot” flip-side: making it 10x easier to onboard than the competition does.

Soumya Mohan writes about three moats: switching costs, network effects and economies of scale:

Switching costs: The loss customers will incur by switching to an alternative. These are very common with most B2B businesses as there is generally some costs involved in switching providers.

Network effects: When each additional customer makes the solution more valuable to the whole customer base.

Economies of Scale: Cost benefits the company is able to have when they have a huge customer base — software generally has low marginal costs so these can be huge. They can use this for further investments to increase their moat or pass on the cost benefits to the customer to price out competitors.

LEMMMA: A Playbook for US SaaS Success at Scale (Part 8)


Also called “Explode”, this phase of the LEMMMA playbook is about maximising revenue from an account. This will include a mix of upsell and cross-sell. It is much easier than a first-time sale because the brand awareness is now there in the enterprise, thanks to the success of the land and expand strategy. “Maximise” can be thought of along two dimensions: maximising the revenue generation, and maximising the utility of the product. For a product based on per-seat pricing, the focus needs to be on getting utilisation going in multiple departments. For maximising product utility, the SaaS company needs to have a good customer success team which is tasked with ensuring that more and more features of the product are used.

Rajesh Ram has an excellent success story on the land-expand-explode approach to winning. Here is an excerpt from a talk given at SaaStr in 2019, related to Egnyte. “Egnyte is the only secure content platform built specifically for business. With thousands of customers worldwide, in a variety of different vertical markets, Egnyte delivers secure content collaboration, compliant data protection, and simple infrastructure modernization; all through a single SaaS platform.” Here is the strategy for “Explode”:

Continued education. If you can’t show your customer where they are able to grow their business in unique ways, then I think you’re just being a technology provider. You’re really not being a partner. Do you have unique insights into their industry? For example, if you’re serving financial services, are there some new regulatory needs that are coming out in the market that you can help them achieve two years ahead of their competitors?

Industry alignment. We started to set up industry groups and forums; bringing like-minded CEOs together from the same industry and they would feed off of each other. Obviously, it helped us a lot in terms of our roadmap, but more importantly, it gave these buyers a sense of confidence that they were investing together in this company called Egnyte. At some level we were helping mitigate the risk to the buyer because there was a sense of community in the way that they were investing in this technology.

Executive alignment: Mr. Ram ended this topic with the construction company’s Explode phase. He said, “Corporate was starting to take notice; we decided to grab the bull by its horns and approach the CIO. I said, ‘Look, you’ve got 12 -13 projects running this, it makes no sense for you to have these multiple solutions. Ultimately [they] ended up deploying Egnyte company-wide. We got 100% penetration of the use cases as well as the addressable market within the company, which was 3000 employees at the time.”

For Indian SaaS companies, this phase is the real test of US market success. It is what creates the lock-in and paves the way for building the moat and crafting a monopoly. In Netcore’s case, success in the maximise phase would mean getting the enterprise to go beyond just the use of email to the complete martech stack.

LEMMMA: A Playbook for US SaaS Success at Scale (Part 7)

Land and Expand – 2

In the Netcore case, we need to begin with “land” before we can “expand”. One of the ideas I have been thinking about is to create a set of products which can attract inbound interest without extensive spending on brand building and marketing. Hubspot did this amazingly well with its Website Grader tool: a free utility which attracts the right target audience and gets a potential buyer’s email address to then follow-up on. Netcore has Grade My Email to do something similar.

While the focus for “land” is to get a small paid pilot or actual revenues, I think Indian SaaS companies will be better served by creating a “workbench” of tools which can offer utility. Spending on brand building is expensive and content marketing takes time. While both have to be done over the long-term, an easier approach could be to offer a toolbox with useful free services. The product must sell itself – “product-led growth”. It needs to be of repeat value so a relationship gets established. The “land” and “expand” approaches can thus be different products: “land” is about building the relationship, and “expand” can be about doing the real sale which will mean an elaborate engagement for the enterprise to make the switch.

To take Netcore’s example, the ideal outcome is for an enterprise to switch 100% of their email traffic to Netcore. But that has a lot of friction associated with it: lists, segments, creatives, journeys, historical data – all have to be migrated. An enterprise will not undertake that exercise unless it is absolutely convinced that there is big RoI to be gained from the transition. So, a landing approach could focus on three stages: show value with the email program without making a switch (what I call the 0% solution), then get some emails sent via Netcore (1-30% solution), and finally a pathway for the full switch (31-100% solution).

In the 0% solution, we can offer utilities focused on Email 2.0 and Loyalty 2.0 (AMP and Atomic Rewards) to get the relationship going. In the 1-30% phase, we can create multiple moments for which AMP emails can be sent without disrupting the existing ESP (email service provider) relationship and increasing the engagement with the developers and marketers. Once the uplift has been seen, then the complete switch can be done as part of the 31-100% phase.

The 0% phase needs to have product-led growth (PLG). A developer or marketer must be able to use the utility without much friction – and the resulting RoI must be big enough that there is word-of-mouth spread to help drive growth.

Indian SaaS companies can use a similar approach to make early inroads into their TAL (target account list) without having to burn cash and build US-based executive teams – both of which are expensive propositions. A smartly crafted land and expand strategy is the answer.  Both can be accomplished without extensive selling: the land phase needs a very good product and smart persuasion, while the expand stage needs a mix of account executives and an onboarding team, both of which can be done from a base in India rather than an onsite presence in the US.

LEMMMA: A Playbook for US SaaS Success at Scale (Part 6)

Land and Expand – 1

The ideal approach for winning in SaaS is to have an exceptional product and GTM (go-to-market) with a combination of growth marketing and sales: content to generate inbound interest and leads, inside sales via sales development representatives, and account executives to close the deals. For the SMB (small and medium businesses) sector, the product needs to be self-service. For the discussion going forward, I will focus more on sales to mid-sized US enterprises where the MRR can be an average of $10,000. To build a $10 million MRR business ($120 million ARR) will therefore need 1,000-odd enterprise customers.

A key challenge for any sale is that the buyer needs to change some well-established habits. This leads to switching costs. So, the ability of the product to deliver a significantly better experience and outcome is important. One approach is to offer an equivalent or better product at a cheaper price. Switching will then depend on the criticality of the product and the friction involved in migrating. The tighter the integration a product has, the higher will be the bar for switching – in which case the RoI has to be significantly greater. In SaaS, product is the key. So, a challenger SaaS company needs to come up with a much better product to even get the conversation started.

The typical sales strategy is land and expand: get into the buyer with a product and then work to expand the revenue either with more seats (end users) or more independently priced features.

Asavin Wattanajantra writes: “If you’re involved in an early stage software as a service (SaaS) business, having a great product that addresses a need is essential. But it’s not enough. You need to build relationships with customers who are willing to pay you money for your product. You need to use land and expand strategies. But your product is unknown, and it’s highly unlikely that the significant majority of prospective customers will be willing to ‘take a chance on you’. So, you need to start small. You need to show what your product can do, winning a company’s business through excellent service and meeting its needs better than any other competing software. From there, you can earn more business across the organisation and get bigger deals – you have landed, and are in the process of expanding. And that’s what a land and expand strategy is, and how it works.”

Norma Makarem adds: “The land-and-expand strategy, also known as “seed and grow”, is when you start with a small deal and use the agreement to form a strong relationship with the company through exceptional service. Then, you continue to sell to the business across different projects and expand your services and profit margins over time. This model allows you to maintain a positive return on investment while growing your business. Over time, you can attract more deals with that client as they require more services and come to rely on your company for its stellar offerings. You leverage your initial sale to highlight your uniqueness, integrity, and proficiency in what you specialize in.”

Rathna Kumar has two very helpful graphics: