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A sixteen-week deep learning program: SGx is a pay-it-forward, pro bono initiative by SaaSBOOMi

Since early 2020, we’ve been busy strengthening the SaaS ecosystem through a new personalized coaching program called SaaSBOOMi SGx. So far, more than 15 young companies have been nurtured and shaped by seasoned entrepreneurs who founded the program. They have played mentors to these eager mentees and shared with them their years of learning, wisdom, and hours and hours of time. This two-year-long journey has finally come to an end. But it’s not the end of SGx, it’s the beginning of a new chapter. SGx will continue to shape stories, there’s a lot left to do. But let’s begin with unpacking all that happened in the first chapter.

Two weeks ago, I was in Goa. It wasn’t a holiday, but it sure did feel like one. I was in the company of founders who were all sharing stories and talking about their experiences. But there was something uncanny about what was happening there. Strange and magical. Along with sharing their learnings, they were talking about this one thing people often shy away from. They were talking about failing.

For years, I’ve been a SaaS community evangelist and observer. Within the SaaS community, there is an understanding that early-stage companies need to be handheld; they need an ecosystem to foster their growth. And the community had worked hard to create and sustain this ecosystem. But what we witnessed in Goa was special.

It was an entire community enshrining the spirit of paying it forward. Founders were sharing their failures because they wanted to teach their mentees about the growth that happens when you fail. How failure prepares you for the next step instead of holding you back.

What was this event?

It was the SaaSBOOMi SGx #GoaRetreat. A culmination of the three SaaSBOOMi SGx cohorts, born out of a conference we did in 2020, called SaaSBOOMi Growth. There was the comfort of being vulnerable because these founders had spent hours, months actually, talking to each other on Zoom. There was no ice to break.

It was a community coming together, investing its time and efforts so the SaaS ecosystem can not just grow but flourish. It was a beautiful feeling. It was extraordinary.

But before we talk more about the Goa chapter, let me share with you how it all started.

Origin story

The year was 2019. We were doing a one-day event called SaaSBOOMi Enterprise in Bengaluru. After the event concluded, a few of us were talking when a participant, Vivek Khandelwal of iZooto, raised a question. Whenever all these events happen, we have to come to Bengaluru. Why aren’t we doing any in Delhi?

With the SaaS ecosystem growing in the country, and more and more startups emerging even in cities such as Surat, Indore, and Jaipur, there absolutely was no need for Bengaluru to remain the epicenter. If startups are growing everywhere, learning opportunities also need to be democratized.

The great thing about building this Delhi-NCR startup ecosystem idea was that this region-centric approach if replicated in other states could achieve exactly that. It could serve founders from the smallest of cities rather well. So we began working on building a model for such an event in Delhi, and the work of SaaSBOOMi Growth began.

The Delhi founders — Mrigank Tripathi of PeopleStrong, Sachin Bhatia of Ameyo, Ankit Oberoi of AdPushup, Ashish Tulsian of Posist, and others — immediately started planning a conference. But before this could hit the ground, Covid-19 lockdowns happened, and SaaSBOOMi Growth moved online. The conference which happened on 9th May 2020 was a big success, over 250+ founders and growth practitioners attended it. We had a carefully curated list of speakers who brought with them their unique playbooks to share with the audience. Curious questions were asked, and learnings were shared eagerly.

The conference was a success, but it worked for more reasons than one. What came out of the conference was a hunger to do more. These founders who had kickstarted the SaaSBOOMi Growth event (Delhi chapter) said they wanted to do something big. This “something big” took shape of a learning program — GrowthX.

The program structure

Here’s how it worked. We decided we will choose six early-stage companies with ARR $500,000–$2 million to be a part of it. Six founders who’ve been running the growth engines of their companies for a while will mentor the founders of these six companies. The mentoring will happen through intense one-on-one sessions every week for four months with one goal: to help these founders solve the challenges they are facing, be it with product development, scaling, or revenue growth.

How it happened

Sachin, Mrigank, Vivek, Ankit, Varun Shoor, and Kapil Makhija became the first six mentors. And call it serendipity or fate, but the way these mentors and mentees were matched, it was all things falling into the right place. So, for instance, if someone had a solid product, they automatically were matched with a mentor whose area of focus was product development. This wasn’t by design. It’s just how things worked out.

The first cohort, where mentors invested nearly six to eight hours a week in nurturing their mentee’s company, was an invigorating experience. It was intense work, mentors were guiding the new founders while also running their own companies. But it never stopped them from showing up. They were dedicating their weekends to mentoring, all for the benefit of the community. There was such a great flow of energy that soon enough, we found ourselves launching the second cohort. Another four-month long program with another set of six companies.

While Sachin, Mrigank, Ankit, and Varun from the original list of mentors continued in the second cohort, we had Raj Sheth join the pack as the mentor for the fifth startup. We also onboarded founders from the first cohort Vengat, Kalyan, Ashwin, and Abhi to assist the mentor pool as wingmates. This led to a mentoring structure with saarthis (senior mentor) leading the coaching effort with the wingmates assisting them. This structure, we believe, would be vital for the continuity of the program as graduates from the program can choose to become wingmates and later saarthis with a pay-it-forward mindset thereby enabling us to groom a rich mentor pool. The second cohort also had Matthew join as a volunteer to coordinate the program with Sachin. The cohort ran successfully amidst the challenges caused by the Covid-19 pandemic’s second wave. While all five startups from the cohort were able to make tangible progress in building their growth flywheel, we also celebrated the acquisition of two startups from the second cohort and one from the first cohort during this period. We knew we were onto something special, we just had to persevere and continue with the effort.

Evolution of the story

By the time the second cohort ended, our six mentors were bone tired. So we decided to take a break and then return to the idea. When we reconvened, Mrigank took charge of promoting SaaSBOOMi Growthx (which was then rebranded to SGx) and led the effort to structure the admissions process. Meanwhile, Sachin and Matthew John put together the curriculum for the 16-week program and also focussed on onboarding new mentors to the pool. The preparation for the new cohort then gathered momentum, as other mentors such as Kalyan Varma and Vengat Krishnaraj also started helping with the effort. For the third cohort, ‌45 companies applied, and six were chosen.

The Goa Chapter

The Goa idea germinated, a little bit, from Zoom exhaustion. Three cohorts were conducted digitally, but no one had met in the real world. It was time to change that. So, an offsite was planned and all three cohorts, along with the mentors, came to Goa.

Day 1

We landed in Goa on Friday and gathered in the evening. Remember, this was the first time they were all seeing each other in person, and so naturally, the initial hour was people talking to each other, which was followed by some networking.

Everyone shared a unique life experience. They talked about their startup ideas, their products, and their plans with it. Eventually, we played some games, and it was time to retire to our respective rooms.

Day one was slow. It was about getting people situated and comfortable, but honestly, there was no need to establish comfort. These mentors and mentees had worked so extensively with each other, there was nothing but pure, unadulterated camaraderie between them.

Day 2

The second day was our first morning in Goa, and so naturally, it started with a walk on the beach. Then we started our first session for the day, where each founder talked about the values they got from the program.

A thing these mentees had learned during their four months in the program was the value of communicating with clarity. The way each mentee spoke about their experience made one thing clear — they had learned the art of articulation. Some people spoke about how they learned to value failures and even developed a risk appetite because of it. While others talked about the value that can be found in protecting your own. It’s something that never goes unrewarded.

There were business and life lessons shared. Be it about leading by example, or about the literal and philosophical value of money. How much money is too much money? What is the right time to exit? And what’s the point of accumulating all this money if you don’t have the time to spend it?

These were enriching conversations. It was spellbinding, just watching these founders talk about the things they learned from the program and their mentors.

But if you want to understand the impact the program has had on these companies, consider these points.

  1. There was a 120% Marketing-Qualified Lead (MQL) and the Top of the Funnel (TOFU) growth within 90 days. The companies saw more interest from potential customers and their brand awareness grew.
  2. There was a cumulative pipeline increase of ~$15M across six companies with an average pipeline increase of ~$1.5M
  3. Earlier, none of the companies were tracking their growth metrics effectively. But post the program, they all began tracking their SaaS Growth Marketing OKRs.
  4. Three of the companies, Spyne, Veris, and APPSeCONNECT, successfully executed a cross-border GTM motion. They moved from domestic to international GTM and fully aligned their business hiring, readiness, and positioning in the new geography.
  5. All six companies were able to clearly differentiate the identification of the buyer universe and TAM.

After the day concluded, instead of retiring to their rooms, we stayed back and talked about the next phase of SGx. Among the new crop of founders, someone asked if there will be a new cohort and when. Another one said they’d like to volunteer their time to mentor the next generation.

It is incidents such as this that tell us why the SaaS ecosystem is thriving in India. And why it is going to grow from strength to strength in the coming years. The SGx story that started from a small idea is becoming a tomb. There are more chapters left to write, more left to read. This is just the beginning.

I would like to end the note by acknowledging Matthew, who has been managing the program since the launch of the second cohort, along with Sachin, Mrigank, and other mentors. We are looking for more founder volunteers to step in and help us shape SGx into one of the most thoughtful growth accelerator programs in the world. Reach out to us at hello@saasboomi.com if you would like to be part of this journey.