Welcome to a special edition of Digital Insight. Mike Bank an Angel investor covers one of the most rewarding aspects of the entrepreneur’s life that few get to experience: The Exit. Mike meets Omkar Joshi who last week sold his business to the market leader in his sector of Financial Reporting .Q1) You came up with the idea, you found customers then you went out to the market and created the product. What came next?Q2) How did you win such large clients?video link to Q2) So you mention the difficulty you have in winning these large clients. You have an incredible client list. Megacap corporations. Vodafone is one I believe, GlaxoSmithKline, BAE. Were these won off the back of the relationship Company Reporting have or did you have to win them organically?Q3) So there was a real technological, digital play there to help improve the brand as a whole?Q4) How do you attract new customers?Q5) Were there any other challenges that you faced as you were expanding?video link to Q5) So that particular partnership coupled with the partnership or merger with Company Reporting with which you already have many existing relationships. Those two were in your view quite critical in terms of building business. But were there any other challenges that you faced as you were expanding?Q6) Did you also have mentors or advisers who were external to the business who helped you?Full Transcript: Omkar Joshi, Part 2) Sales Strategies and Growth
our interview we covered the early days of Omkar’s startup Company Reporting. Now we’re going to talk about how Omkar grew the company. So Omkar you mentioned in the first section you came up with the idea, you found customers then you went out to the market and created the product. What came next?
Omkar Joshi: I would slightly correct the first part in that I didn’t actually found Company Reporting. I found what was called TrueandFair.com. That was my own startup. We built the product. We got a lot of traction and customers. We didn’t raise funding as it was not available. We just kept on building the product. There came a point where we had to make a change. So either we really accelerated the funding to go after our customers or to look for other options. This is around 2009, early 2009. Again funding is not really available. Everybody is cash-strapped. The VC market is almost shut for a while. What do I do? Do I shut down the business and go back to a cushy job, or do I just keep going?
So at that point I realised that one of the core issues with my product was I was going to have to sell it to large corporates and large accounting firms. And of course the issue with them is they suffer from large sales cycles. There’s too many decision makers in this. They pay late, they’re never the best payers. And you have to jump through hundreds of hoops to get to a contract. So they I looked at what are some other complementary offerings that are out there. So let’s look at what else is out there. I came across Company Reporting ..
Mike: … which was an existing company
Omkar: … which was an existing brand. And I’ve used Company Reporting as an accountant 10 years back. So Company Reporting as a brand existed since the 1990s. Set up by Dr David Tonkin who is a Phd in accounting. Over the years I had seen the quality of the products steadily decline. I knew that something existed but it was really on a weak platform. Mostly treated like a bit of a magazine.
So I started discussions with David and the rest of them regarding investors and investment. It took me a good year or so to actually convince them I have a better product and I have more traction with customers. So let’s join hands. Actually despite being half the size of Company Reporting, I actually was able to buyout Company Reporting. So TrueAndFair and Company Reporting merged in 2010 and we became one company. and that was where the real story of Company Reporting started.
Mike: So you mention the difficulty you have in winning these large clients. You have an incredible client list. Megacap corporations. Vodafone is one I believe, GlaxoSmithKline, BAE. Were these won off the back of the relationship Company Reporting have or did you have to win them organically?
Omkar: Yes we do have quite a large clientèle. It is absolutely Blue Chip companies. Large accounting firms, regulatory bodies. academic institutions, there’s about 50 universities we work with. So yes, it’s a very strong and powerful client base. It’s very difficult to say actually how we came to start picking them up. It’s a very difficult market to crack.
And Company Reporting with its really powerful brand which was known over years was very powerful for us to go after these big relationships. Several existed already with Company Reporting then were lost over the years because of a slightly weaker product and we were really able to improve on the user experience. We used Drupal6, which now were looking to go over to Drupal7 from being ‘we are a book publisher. Look at our book in digital format’, to being a real platform of choice.
Mike: So there was a real technological, digital play there to help improve the brand as a whole?
Omkar: Yes but the technological play still is n’t a tech product. It really a content product and the real USP is not the technology, its the platform. Or lets say the platform with the content. What we do and how we bundle it together and how we link into the standards. That’s the real IP of the business.
Mike: So maybe we can take this opportunity to find out how you on-board new customers or attract new customers. I know you guys were offering a Free Trial and maybe still do. How was your experience of that in terms of attracting clients?
Omkar: Again with niche products in our market the issue is getting people to try us out, right? So we do offer Free Trials to our website. We get hundreds of Free Trial requests and the issue is several of them go to the website, fill out the form and say ‘I want to trial this product’ and don’t try it. So what can you do? At the end of the day it’s still our primary way of attracting customers. Let them have a go at it, play with it and see what is available.
But we also figured out that the best way to get people to do something is to be told that this is a good product by a Third Party who the target customers believe in. So we went and partnered with the Institute of Chartered Accountants. And as a part of that deal they are now actively endorsing our product to their members. And now the members who are chartered accountants, they see an independent body that serves their interest is actually recommending this product. That actually has resulted in maybe doubling our customer base in matter of months.
Mike: So that particular partnership coupled with the partnership or merger with Company Reporting with which you already have many existing relationships. Those two were in your view quite critical in terms of building business. But were there any other challenges that you faced as you were expanding?
Omkar: As you grow the business funding is always an issue. We’ve had several points at which we’ve said ‘Let’s see if we really want to grow this business from where it is and let’s get some funding. And again with B2B there’s a lack of understanding of the market is unbelievable. How people do not see how much the opportunity is actually worth.
Mike: Will that get you to bring ‘sexy’ back to B2B?
Omkar: Well I don’t know how I’m going to do that but we’ll try our best.
Mike: Just a couple of more questions. You mention the industry body ICAEW that is being a key partner. Did you also have mentors or advisers who were external to the business who helped you. And if so who were they and in what areas were they most valuable?
Omkar: I must say I’ve had several mentors over the years. I would name a few but not for this forum. There’s several who’ve helped me. I would say the biggest mentor who probably deserves a mention is Open Coffee Club. It’s been a phenomenal journey for me the last 3 or 4 years. I’ve been occasionally answering questions but mostly I’ve been taking stuff right from setting up my first bank account to choosing these developers for the prototype to understanding marketing spending as a percentage of revenues, to picking an adviser for the sale which was Keystone.
So I’ve really taken a lot from this network. There’s several other individuals who’ve really helped shape this business over the years. I’m very thankful and every entrepreneur should find somebody they can talk to.
Mike: Thanks very much. In the next section were going to be talking with Omkar, how he prepared the business for exit and the eventual buyout of his business. And then we’ll conclude with what Omkar is going to be doing next.
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