Hunters + Unicorns | The Founders Edition – Anant Bhardwaj #003

The Hunters and Unicorns session with Anant Bhardwaj, Founder and CEO of Instabase unveiled an extraordinary journey, starting from humble beginnings to becoming the visionary founder of a groundbreaking AI company, Instabase.

The emphasis on developing applications around real-world use cases struck a chord, highlighting the need to identify broader relevance beyond a specific scenario for achieving impactful market fit.

Key Takeaways;

1. Early Life and Education: Grew up in a rural part of India called Nalanda, Bihar, without modern amenities. Initially struggled adjusting to a city environment due to a shift in language and educational medium to English.

2. Career Aspirations: Initially wanted to join the Army like family members but was rejected due to colour blindness. Had an interest in literature, poetry, and writing but was discouraged from pursuing it as a career.

3. Academic Journey: Accidentally got into computer science during college in India and discovered a passion for programming. Moved to the US for a master’s at Stanford but felt pressure to start a company during this time. Pursued research projects at MIT, one of which was Data Hub, exploring abstracting complex data for diverse applications. Faced challenges with visa status and legal issues but was supported by MIT during this period.

4. Formation of Databricks: Founded Databricks without a clear commercial application but had an academic focus initially. Initially targeted academia, providing free products to professors and students at various universities.

5. Discovery of Commercial Use: Identified a commercial use case with companies like Zenefits and Lending Club needing data extraction from diverse sources like PDFs and images.

6. Product Development and Market Fit: Iterated the product based on market needs and feedback, eventually finding a product-market fit in data extraction and analysis for various industries. Emphasized a fearless and experimental approach to adapt to new opportunities and discover viable product uses.

7. Key Advice from Martin Casado: “Use cases precede the product; product precedes the platform; platform precedes the ecosystem.” Don’t build a product without understanding the use case it solves. Don’t build a platform without a real product. A platform allows value creation by someone other than the creator.

8. Discovery of Product-Market Fit: Understand the key drivers and drags for customers; drivers are critical to why they buy. Find the one or two core drivers that make customers want to buy your product. Prioritize features that cater to these key drivers and address critical pain points.

9. Approach to Product Development: Engage in parallel experimentation to find both the use cases and the right product. Engage early customers to help validate and define the product, ensuring it addresses their needs. Focus on problems applicable across a wide range of industries to have a broad market impact.

10. Building a Platform: Allow customers to create value by building their own apps on your platform. Separate the product from custom services and prioritize building a scalable product. Be open to iterating and adjusting the product based on customer feedback and use cases.

11. Ecosystem Building: Move towards creating an ecosystem by enabling third-party developers to build on the platform. Aim for apps built by one entity to be usable and valuable for another, promoting a broader ecosystem.

12. Early Growth and Funding: Achieved significant growth from $250k to $5 million in a year, gaining investor interest. Raised funding at a $1 billion valuation in 2019 due to perceived strong product-market fit.

13. Challenges in Scaling Sales: Initially, sales were handled by the founder, but transitioning to a sales team required careful planning. Incorrect hiring and lack of understanding of sales dynamics led to a wasted year in scaling sales.

14. Building an Effective Sales Team: Hiring salespeople requires careful consideration of ramp-up times, quotas, and net new revenue targets. Defined sales process stages: first meeting, technical deep dive, proof of value, success criteria, business value, commercial and pricing, legal.

15. Sales Process and Experimentation: Focused on identifying and repeating successful use cases to drive sales effectively. Employed a small growth team for experimentation and exploration of new use cases and verticals. Launched a self-serve product (iHub) to understand the market, not focusing on specific deal sizes initially.

16. Sales Velocity and Incentives: Emphasized velocity of feedback and signal collection over deal size to learn from a larger customer base. Experimenting with sales team incentives to encourage high-velocity growth and learning from a diverse customer set.

Episode 3 of ‘The Founders Edition’ is not to be missed!


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