Friday, April 24, 2015

What is the Biggest Challenge of Running a Software Startup?

As they say:


Startup ≥ A Roller Coaster Ride


For a successful startup, many things must fall in place, consistently in sync with one another and most importantly within a limited period of time before they start to fall apart...  and yes these should happen along with a little bit of a factor called luck.

Somehow or other as a developer / blogger I've been associated with many Startups for the past six years. A few failed and a few are moderately successful. What I inferred from my association with them is that running a startup is a 24x7 job and it requires the same level of nurturing, care &  dedication that is expected while raising a new born baby. 

Visualizing the product idea, sharing it with someone who probably shares the same level of insanity as you, refining the product day in day out - without caring if you're in traffic, washroom or in sound sleep. Forming a team, keeping them motivated even if you pay them much below what an MNC would've paid. Startup is a challenge for the founders as most of the days, most of them, end up doing multi-role tasks starting from a CEO to the office assistant and everything in between!

Let us hear what is the single biggest challenge of running a software startup from those who are into it for many years.

Dinesh-VaradharajanDinesh Varadharajan is the Director at OrangeScape, handling the engineering for KiSSFLOW, #1 workflow product in Google Apps Marketplace. He is a hands-on executive with profound experience working with bleeding edge technologies, developing great products combined with mentoring and growing highly productive teams. 

The biggest challenge for a startup is to get the first 100 paid customers. The initial days are pretty chaotic. Its all about continuously evaluating our sales process, marketing metrics and product feedback and make course corrections to improve those periodically. This continuous evalutation resulted in a heavily optimised process which will work for the next 1000 customers.
 
On the product front, we integrated several engagement tools like mixpanel and intercom to analyse user behaviour. We also frequently spoke to our customers to get user feedback. This helped us in maturing the product to match market needs.

For sales, our CEO spear headed the acquisition of our first 100 customers and defined the workable sales process. We completely automated the process before hiring our sales team. This gave us greater predictability and good visibility in sales numbers.

For marketing, every one in the team had to familiarize themselves with marketing which was the toughest part of all. We tracked every dollar spent to a lead and slowly we were able to find more efficient ways to spend the money to acquire more leads.

Right now, we have a cockpit with lot of meters and controls and now we know exactly which knob to turn when the numbers are not looking good.

Ezhil
Ezhil has over 16 years of experience in the ICT industry. His most recent role was Director of CSS Labs, the R & D wing of CSS Corp. 

Although he is known for his technical expertise in numerous technology spaces, he has gradually risen as an opinion maker in cloud computing in India.

Although India is slated for excellent growth in SaaS, the market and the cloud services scene isn't exactly mature. Identifying and disrupting a niche market and then narrowing down on the top challenges in that target audience needs a lot of focus.

Finding the right talent for our technology needs is also a daunting challenge - no start-up can afford the risk of a bad hire, so at any level, recruiting is a key priority for us.

OlegOleg Khadartsev  is CEO of Mediametric. Passionate about media monitoring, data analysis, text mining, natural language processing.

Mediametric carefully aggregates almost every piece of content, published on the web and then collects all the stats for these articles - including shares to major social networks, comments on the website and citations and links, made in other articles.

Since Mediametric is a media analytics startup, our challenges come from big data - every day we collect articles from more than 100,000 sources, and keeping it all nice and clean is not always easy. 

We're using heuristic-based approach: we filter the incoming content automatically, giving it green light or blocking it, depending on whether it is a media outlet or something else, like online store or educational site. Some sources are sorted in the "gray zone" - those we filter using semi-automatic techniques, for example crowdsourcing. This way we filter out irrelevant content from thousands of channels, effectively handling large amount of data. 

I would say that a great team is essential for overcoming any challenge — with the right people it is a lot easier to build something from scratch and deal with problems on the way.

Editor's note: In an email communication Moscow based Mediametric's CEO Oleg shared the following input regarding talent scarcity & retention:

"Speaking about developers, it's a bit challenging to hire a skilled and motivated programmer here. However, we have noticed that for skilled developers a promising fast-growing company means more than just high salary. It's essential to them to have a feeling of ownership of some part of the product or an area of research."



Pranay Sanghvi
Pranay Sanghvi is Founder & Director – Strategy+Business at Intellibuzz, ExpenseBuzz. ExpenseBuzz is a SaaS that helps you to Control & Cut your company’s communications cost - Reduce recurring expenses on your landline, mobile, IT & internet, every day

In India, lack of reliability on small vendors/developer-team for software/product building is a challenge. This results in        

                          -- delayed roll out              
                          -- increased cash burn rate
                          -- toss of plans and finally
                          -- demotivation.

Thanks everyone who shared their views here.

If you are a software entrepreneur and want to share your views you're welcome to do it at the following link [submit it before 29th April 2015] :

                       -- Participate here - What's the Single Biggest Start-up Challenge?

Want to read a few more discussions at Techno-Pulse?
                       -- Techno-Pulse Discussions



Friday, April 17, 2015

Why Should I Replace My Landline with VoIP?


For generations, a landline phone connection was the hallmark of a reputable business, a company’s main method of communication with its current and potential customers. However, skyrocketing rates and evolving technologies are quickly leading to the decline of traditional voice calling.

VoIP is one of the most exciting alternatives to landline voice calling, offering the same utility along with a range of advanced features such as visual voicemail and standard Caller ID. VoIP also offers much more affordable pricing than with established phone carriers, and small businesses will especially appreciate the benefits VoIP calling provides.



Bargain Pricing

One of the main reasons VoIP calling has become such an attractive option to business leaders is the cost-effective service it can provide. Where landline companies are bogged down with outdated and expensive infrastructure as well as regulatory complications that often drive up the price for the consumer, iiNet’s phone systems for business make use of your existing Internet connection to deliver high-quality calls across its proprietary network, delivering high performance at low cost. VoIP calls can also be routed through a smartphone over a WiFi connection to save on mobile calling costs.

Mobility

Another advantage that VoIP calling offers when compared to traditional landlines is unrivaled mobility. A VoIP connection is contained within the equipment itself, meaning that it can be easily transported wherever business takes you as long as you have access to a phone jack and Internet connection. Even better, VoIP service can be configured to send notifications to multiple phones and devices whenever you receive a call, so you’ll never miss a curious customer.

Customization

VoIP also offers significant potential for customization. Many VoIP providers allow clients to choose their own phone number from a list of available numbers, and even select their own area code to better identify with an area or target market. VoIP can also quickly be adapted to meet the changing needs of a growing business, as lines can easily be added, reassigned or deleted as needed unlike traditional landlines.

Bottom-line

VoIP is not only an entirely viable alternative to landline voice calling, it’s actually a superior option in many aspects. The convenience, options and value delivered by a VoIP phone system are impossible for a traditional phone carrier to match, and getting started with VoIP is as simple as getting a VoIP-enabled phone or an adaptor for an existing handset.

Information: This is a Sponsored Post.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Your SaaS May Not be Multi-tenant–But Why Should You Care?

Over the past couple of years, single-tenant vs. multi-tenant SaaS debate has been creating loads of buzz in the technology circles. Let me ask you a few questions:
 
1. Does multi-tenancy matter if you are a SaaS provider?
  •  
  • 2. Does multi-tenancy matter if you are a SaaS subscriber - do you need to care if your SaaS is a single-tenant or multi-tenant?
  •  
  • If you are curious to know an instant and short answer, it’s an emphatic - YES, it matters! Either you are a SaaS provider or a SaaS consumer multi-tenancy matters to you. To simplify your decision making process let me tell you convincingly that if it’s not multi-tenant it’s not a true SaaS in the first place!
 
Yes, The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), The European Network and Information Security Agency (ENISA), Cloud Security Alliance (CSA) and many other authorities have already mentioned multi-tenancy as one of the essential (or at least desired) characteristics of a Cloud SaaS.
 

Disclosure: Many SaaS architectural considerations and the term multi-tenancy have been (over)simplified in this article for the sake of understanding.

Who/what are tenants?

In plain English, Tenants are subscribers (consumer/customer/client) of a service. For a B2B or Line-of-Business application like a CRM, a tenant can be a company with 100s of users. Examples: Salesforce.com and Google Apps for Business.

Similarly for Consumer oriented or B2C SaaS, individuals like you and me (yes, general public) can be tenants. A few examples could be Facebook, Twitter, Dropbox etc. But it’s important to note that though these services started themselves as a consumer oriented apps, of late they are trying to diversify themselves in to the B2B segment as well. Gmail is a true consumer oriented SaaS.
 
I must add here that in most of the cases, B2B services require more sophisticated architectural considerations and development efforts in comparison to the consumer oriented applications.
 

What is a Multi-tenant SaaS?

Do you know how a traditional web application is developed and deployed? It’s generally designed, developed and deployed keeping in mind the requirement of a single client. Simply speaking, it’s like developing and deploying different code base and different database instances for each client. So, if you have 100 clients this translates to 100 code bases (builds) and 100 databases to be deployed and maintained!

See figure# 1 below for a graphical representation:
Single-tenant-SaaS
Multi-tenant SaaS architecture, in plain English, is an application that is designed/architected in such a way that it maintains only one code base and possibly (though not necessary) one database for all the clients. So, all your 100 clients now may use a single code base and a single database instance! See figure# 2 below for a graphical representation:

Multi-tenant-SaaS
How does it Benefit the SaaS Provider?

Reduced Support and Maintenance: It’s indeed no-brainer, as maintaining a single code base and database is far easier than maintaining and releasing patches for 100 code bases! Also, if you are upgrading your code or infrastructure it’s simply a onetime effort at one place rather than updating it in 100 different versions at many places.

Cost Efficient – Sharing of resources (development and maintenance effort, infrastructure etc.) almost always converts to cost savings. Although a multi-tenant SaaS may require more time and effort initially yet it definitely pays in the long run once you’ve increased subscriber volume. In most of the scenarios, new subscriber’s signup and onboarding process can be automated for a low or no touch sales and support.
 
A provider with single-tenant service can’t continue to provide the service at an affordable price point and hence may find it difficult to compete, hence may become financially unviable.
 
Security – You don’t need to worry about the security of every client’s applications anymore. Implement state-of-the-art security features in your single code base and database and deploy it with an infrastructure (IaaS) provider having good track record of security and uptime. Peace of mind!
 

How does it Benefit the SaaS Consumer?

All the points mentioned above would obviously lead to make a provider as an efficient SaaS player who can in turn pass on the extra benefits to her/his subscribers. An efficient service may attract higher number of subscribers and as SaaS is all about economies of scale, you have a better chance of getting the service at an affordable price point. Also, as the provider is managing all her/his subscribers from a single code base and database instance s/he will put her/his best effort to offer a quality service.

Bottom-line
 
Multi-tenant SaaS is like sailing together on the same boat with everyone else. There are indeed some cons as well like even a minor hiccup can affect every subscriber (not in the scope of this article). However, on any day the pros of a multi-tenant SaaS far outweigh its cons hence do enquire about it before you sign up for your next SaaS. Is your SaaS multi-tenant?

Monday, March 16, 2015

The next generation IaaS: Multi-cloud via APIs

When you enquire about availability of a service to cloud IaaS providers, without fail they talk about three nines (99.9%), four nines, five nines uptime percentages and design for failure ideas. The leading IaaS service Amazon EC2 offers a 99.95% of service commitment and that translates to 4.38 hours of downtime per year (or 5.04 minutes per week). Rackspace offers 100% network uptime guarantee!

Information – The above mentioned availability excludes scheduled downtime for maintenance apart from many other exclusions mentioned in mouse-print.


Although on any given day the cloud service availability is much higher than the traditional hosting service yet cloud IaaS has its own share of hiccups and that make them talk of the town as the expectations are very high. Every now and then we keep hearing about the outages of Amazon AWS, Microsoft or Google. As a result, in last few major outages the social media was all buzzing with the talks of unavailability of some popular cloud hosted services like Netflix,
Twitter, Zynga, Quora, Heroku, Instagram, AirBnB, Foursquare and Reddit etc. that went offline due to their service providers outages.

Outages are a part of IT and you can’t stop them

No matter how well prepared you are to prevent an outage; somehow it is waiting to happen! There are multiple components in hardware & software apart from multiple parameters that must collaborate seamlessly to run a service and anyone of them can fail at any point in time making the service unavailable. Additionally there are many external factors (natural disasters, grid failures etc.) that are out of control of anyone or any single entity. I think it is not wise to expect a service that is always available and 100% reliable.

But what about your customers?

For every downtime you can easily play the tweet-and-blame your provider game, as many services are already doing, but eventually it’s you who has to bear the revenue loss apart from losing the competitive edge and the brand value of your company. Even a few minutes of downtime is blown out of proportion in social media circles. Also it seems, your competition is just waiting to grab this opportunity and turn it into an advantage, something like this:


How can IaaS minimize the effect of outages?

Existing solutions

1. Mirroring and Availability Zones: Rackspace and Amazon EC2

The IaaS providers indeed have some strategy for it. Rackspace offers multiple geographically separated regions and it recommends that by mirroring your infrastructure between datacenters you can mitigate outage risk. On the other hand, Amazon EC2 offers multiple AWS Availability Zones. As per Amazon’s portal FAQs:

Each availability zone runs on its own physically distinct, independent infrastructure, and is engineered to be highly reliable. Common points of failures like generators and cooling equipment are not shared across Availability Zones. Additionally, they are physically separate, such that even extremely uncommon disasters such as fires, tornados or flooding would only affect a single Availability Zone.

But it has been observed that during last year’s outage of Amazon EC2 (US East data center) on 22 Oct. 2012 even the applications configured for multiple availability zone were knocked off.

2. Multi-hypervisor design: Example OnApp Cloud

OnApp’s server based multi-hypervisor design monitors different cloud services and supports automatic failover by relocating virtual machines and rerouting application data. This service empowers you to point-click-and-manage clouds based on different virtualization platforms. OnApp currently supports Xen, KVM and VMware hypervisors.
  
3. Federated network of public cloud providers - Computenext and 6Fusion

Federation of cloud services (cloud brokerage) is about accessing multiple cloud IaaS from a single sign-on account and monitoring them apart from comparing, measuring and unified billing of the compute resources. Based on your requirements, you can change your provider if needed without rewriting your code and API calls. No more vendor lock-ins!

It seems the above mentioned platforms are already serving as the basis of the beginning of the much talked multi-cloud approach by providing the API abstraction (explained later) to the multi-cloud deployments. I think they should take their service to the next level by providing automatic failover and built-in real-time communication between multiple vendors. A formidable challenge!

Nextgen solution

Is Multi-cloud approach a better strategy to achieve highest possible service availability?

Yes, of course it is. A few companies have already started experimenting this (PayPal for instance). A few have already sensed the upcoming demand for it and are in the process of building right tools for multi-cloud approach (RightScale multi-cloud management). Apart from apparent benefit of high availability multi-cloud may lead to price reduction and healthy competition among IaaS providers for a better service. As a customer you no longer have to face that vendor-lock-in issue.

What are the challenges in multi-cloud implementation?

As a developer I understand that implementing this is easier said than done unless we address the following cloud standards issues:
 Interoperability  Portability etc.

The path to multi-cloud goes via APIs

APIs…? I won’t define APIs here but let me give you a practical scenario from daily life to make you understand the role of an API in a multi-cloud approach.

How do you book (reserve) flight tickets?

You simply sign in to your favorite travel portal (or the airline’s portal) and enter the journey date, city-pair detail, and within seconds you have a list of available airlines on your screen. You choose one of them and after a few clicks and within a few minutes you’ve got the booking confirmation message. Sounds so simple.

Now you must be aware that there are 1000s of travel portals, offering flight booking services to millions of direct customers (registered/guest users) and travel agents in almost 200 countries spread around the globe! Similarly for train and bus bookings, many of these portals are providing you with the facility to view seat layout and book as per your requirement. As booking are going on simultaneously across the world through 1000s of portals:

How do they ensure that the same seat is not booked for more than one customer or that the total number of bookings should not exceed the available seats? Now this sounds a bit complex, isn’t it?
All this is made possible via the magic of APIs running in the background

Airlines, train or bus operators has their inventory. They (or a third party) maintain a computer reservation system (CRS) where they enter their inventory details in their respective database. Once they have a CRS, every vendor who wants to be a part of GDS (Global Distribution System) needs to expose a web API to access its inventory. A GDS will aggregate many such APIs from different vendors and can offer its own web API to multiple channels like travel portals throughout the world.

Now, any booking request to the GDS API will be directed to all the participating vendors computer reservation system (CRS) and the response from them is consolidated and shown to the calling program, (i.e. to your favorite travel portal). So, the GDS APIs are simply a layer of abstraction between the actual vendor inventory and the consumer (travel portals). More or less this is the work flow in any ticket booking system.

To simplify the above let me say that if you wish to develop a travel portal you don’t need to worry about talking to the multiple operators for inventory. You can contact a GDS provider, (Galileo, Amadeus, Sabre etc.) purchase a license and integrate their API in your web application.  The API will receive a few parameters like date, city-pair etc. from your portal and will respond with the availability and fare details.

So, if you want to build a travel portal for international flight booking, it doesn’t matter in which part of the globe you are, as a prerequisite you have to integrate the GDS APIs to your application. This abstraction, to some extent lowers the barrier of developing a portal and that’s the reason there are numerous new travel portals starting up operation every other day.

Bottom-line

I think the above analogy says it all for the cloud services as well. The IaaS providers have got an inventory to share and most of them already have their own APIs to manage server resources. But before the IaaS goes the multi-cloud way on an industrial scale many rough patches need to be smoothened. May be the cloud should evolve and mature a little more in terms of interoperability and standards to offer this much awaited new approach at an affordable cost. What do you think… are we going to witness many multi-cloud implementations in 2014?  

Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Tech Everybody Should Want in 2015

As each year goes by, we seem to be getting closer and closer to the futuristic technology that once only existed in science fiction. It’s a nice thing to dream about; after all, who wouldn't want a hover board or robot servant in their life?

We may not be closer to any of these inventions, but there is already a selection of available technology that can change our day to day lives on the market.

Personal 3D Printing

3D Printing is already well known, but at the moment it’s only available for those with large bank accounts. For anyone who doesn’t know, this machine allows users to download blueprints from the internet and create physical replicas using a range of materials.

The scope is extraordinary. From an acoustic guitar to a fully functioning car, already people are pushing 3D Printers to their full capacities.

What we want to see, however, is the creation of 3D printers for home use. Not only would it be extremely useful, but it could also benefit people who work from home. For example, graphic designers could radically transform the speed and manner in which they work if they had such technology to hand.

Exoskeleton Suits

Exoskeleton suits may sound like something that only exists in the latest Call of Duty game, but they do exist and are already being used in a variety of contexts.

In a nutshell, they are a mobile machine consisting of an outer framework which is worn by a person. It is powered by a series of motors or hydraulics that provide energy for any limb movement.

They are used to help wearers by boosting their endurance and strength. In most cases, they are found in the military, both in and out of combat. However, if exoskeleton suits were introduced in a civilian context, it could help rescue workers survive hazardous environments.

Another interesting development is that exosuits can be used to assist people with disabilities. Although this technology isn’t currently available for public consumption, there are at least three separate projects going on that revolve around helping those that can’t walk properly.

If it can change lives in a positive way, there’s no reason why the technology shouldn't be embraced by the public.

Virtual Reality

For many years, various people have been trying to make virtual reality a tangible thing, but most have failed. This has been slowly changing, however, and there are numerous technologies that are being developed which are delivering real results.

The first and most well-known is Oculus Rift. This piece of tech allows users to play first person view games as if they are the actual character. Wearing specially designed goggles, a user’s head movement is detected and allows them to see through the perspective of a character.

Another virtual reality device that has only just been announced is the Microsoft HoloLens. This allows you to see normally, except with augmentations. 3D objects, screens and much more will appear before your eyes, and can be interacted with appropriately.

Both of these could change how we work and interact with each other on a major scale. From more immersive gaming, to making design process that bit easier, virtual reality is quickly showing how it can be incorporated into real world circumstances.

Windows 10

Windows 8 hasn't been a success at all, with Microsoft spending more time focusing on stitching together mobile and web interfaces instead of a fully functioning OS. It’s clear they are trying to make amends for this disaster however, by skipping Windows 9 entirely and going straight to 10.

The introduction of a voice app much like Apple’s Siri, and the fact that it’s free for Windows 8 users is promising. Microsoft really are trying to produce a platform that can be used effectively across all devices from laptop to phone to tablet that will leave all users satisfied.

Apple Watch

One of the biggest innovations in recent times is wearable tech in the form of smart watches. It’s like having the power of a smartphone at your wrist, allowing users to make phone calls, use various apps and of course, tell the time. This could be the perfect solution for those that are always losing their phone on a night out.

Apple have focused on style as well, so it’s not as if you’re transporting an iPad on your wrist. They are being offered in a variety of colours, and actually look like something that will fit with fashion trends. A price hasn't been announced, nor has the release date, but we’re sure it’ll be revolutionary once it is released.

Google Glass

Following the trend of wearable technology, Google Glass is an exciting innovation which, sadly, can no longer be purchased.

With this technology, taking photos, sending texts and browsing the web can be done with a few simple voice commands. However, do not fear. Google Glass 2 is being worked on as you read this, so soon you will have the option once more to invest in this revolutionary technology.

The Steam Machine

The Steam Machine is Valve’s go at creating a next generation gaming console with the power of a computer. Valve are well known for putting care and attention into everything they release, so it will be interesting to see how they do with this challenging product.

There aren’t many details as of yet, although one thing we know about is the controller. Instead of directional controls it has touch pads, creating a more sensitive gaming experience. Hopefully more information will be unveiled soon so we can get even more excited about this console.

The Tech Everybody Should Want

Looking at the technology shown on display in this blog, there’s little wonder why everyone’s so excited. 2015 may prove to be an impressive year for technology, and we can’t wait to see what is being worked on behind closed doors either.

This article is a guest post contributed by Rachel Jensen on behalf of an exhibition, event and equipment hire company.