Published May 1-3, 2023
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.
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.
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.