A business succeeds when the entire organization keeps learning together. Wisdom of the employees is the biggest asset.
Suresh Sambandam is the CEO of Kissflow, the first unified digital workplace for organizations to manage all of their work on a single, unified platform. Kissflow is used by over 10,000 customers across 160 countries, including more than fifty Fortune 500 companies.
Suresh is an expert and renowned entrepreneur on a mission to democratize cutting-edge technologies and help enterprises seamlessly orchestrate their work through an intuitive blend of collaboration, coordination and control. He has three US patents to his credit.
Suresh is passionate about entrepreneurship, technology startups and spends a significant amount of time in the startup ecosystem mentoring young companies. He co-founded SaaSBoomi, Asia’s No. 1 & largest SaaS Conference.
Where did the idea for Kissflow come from?
Kissflow is a pivot from a previous product that we did. The previous product was ‘Orangescape Visual PaaS’. We were selling to large customers to build process oriented business applications. One of our customers bought the product, and they spent so much energy in building a nice user experience and customizing it. We were stunned by the move that they were actually trying to use our product for building workflows. We went back and looked at other customers who bought our product. Most of them were using it for workflow management. That sparked the idea, and we decided to build a workflow product and named it Kissflow.
The name of the product is based on the universal “KISS(Keep It Simple Stupid)” principle. It’s a low-code/no-code platform which makes it easy for business users to create workflows without any coding knowledge. I’ve always had the vision to ‘democratize rule based computing’, and wanted to offer something that is extremely simple to use for both developers and business users. Kissflow is now a digital workplace platform which makes it easy for managing and collaborating on all kinds of work.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
My day is full of meetings. People say that meetings are always stressful, but I don’t see it that way. I spend more than 8 hours per day in meetings. Pretty much every single meeting ends with us achieving something meaningful. And that is very important at this stage of our company where people need to see the bigger picture, strategies and the related course correction. Without having those meetings, things will go different ways. They help in aligning everything back to the same purpose, goal and so I find them very productive.
One productivity hack we use is to time some meetings to happen between 8 am – 11 am. During these meetings, we brainstorm and deep dive into some concepts especially on the product side when coming up with a new module or a complex feature. Not just me, but most of the teams in Kissflow use this technique to amplify productivity.
How do you bring ideas to life?
It’s a slightly elaborate answer here. The first step is letting the idea sink in for a while before I even think of bringing it to life. I allow it to settle in my mind for a month, and check if I’m still passionate about doing it. If it doesn’t drive me, then it’s probably not a compelling idea. What also happens in the process is ‘connecting the dots’. If the idea is great, I start thinking about it and try connecting the idea with other things that I experienced in the past. Then, I try to take the idea to a new level. And that’s how my ideas grow from a seed to a plant.
What’s one trend that excites you?
The trend that excites me is the concept of ‘digital workplace’. Especially when the power of AI can be combined with the power of digital workplace. It’s going to be a game changer in the next five years or so. Luckily, as a company we are already in that trend and that doubly excites me.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I can juggle many balls and keep them in the air. But when doing something, I give undivided attention to that. I think that makes me more productive as an entrepreneur because having conscious presence in a particular activity helps me make better decisions. For example, many people tend to listen to music and do work at the same time. But I can’t do it. When I’m watching TV, I focus on it and when I’m at work, I give my full attention to it (they call it mindfulness these days!). But that doesn’t mean I can’t handle multiple tasks. I can switch between multiple things, and when I’m doing it, I give full attention to it.
What advice would you give your younger self?
If I were to look back to fifteen years ago, I wish I had learnt more of marketing during that phase. As a company, we went through three pivots, and our current product Kissflow was our third product which was launched in 2012.
The first two products, though technologically-sound, did not take off well because I believe we didn’t have a good understanding of the power of marketing, as much as we did about sales.
Sales is just a trailing indicator but marketing is a leading indicator. Most people focus on sales as it generates money, but for me marketing creates real impact. I feel if I had this understanding of marketing back then, we would have been successful much earlier.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Most people think there is an ultimate creator, a power above. But I don’t think there’s any such creator.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Focus on your people, Period.
Software is a knowledge based industry, and that knowledge comes from people. Our assets are basically people’s intelligence. I give an extraordinary amount of importance for employee’s knowledge and learning.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
In marketing we invested a lot on Search Engine Optimisation (SEO). I truly believe that SEO is an underrated marketing tool. People don’t invest much in it. The reason I’m saying this is, I see many companies outsourcing this to agencies to do it effectively. One thing that actually triggered the growth for Kissflow is SEO, and 50% of signups are a result of good SEO. It’s a very valuable part of marketing for us.
One key learning that we have today is that a business succeeds only when there is all round innovation across all parts of the organization. With respect to Kissflow, not only did we innovate on technology and product management, we also innovated on user experience(UX), an area which is often missing in SaaS products, and of course most importantly in sales & marketing.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
Actually, I’ve faced more than one failure. As I said earlier, Kissflow is the third pivot. So in the first pivot, we didn’t get the technology right because we built it on a client-server model. In the second pivot, we got the technology right and adopted cloud. But the timing was not right. The category was not right, and marketing wasn’t great. But with Kissflow, we got the technology, market category, UX & the product-market fit right, which led to its eventual success
Being a first generation entrepreneur, I barely had any financial backing. In the early 2000s, I left a high paying job to start my company. I literally had no savings to support my family in case of exigencies. There was even a time when I had to sell my car to keep the lights on to do business. And all of this had to be kept under wraps, otherwise it would have affected employee morale. In the entrepreneurial world, the face of the founder is the barometer that the employees look at to gain confidence. So no matter how bad the times are, one has to manage and build the company through the tough times.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
SEO is an underrated tool. Even if you are not easily discoverable as a product/company, you can use SEO. You can do something called SEO for Persona. Look at potential buyers for your product. Let’s say your ideal buyer is a finance manager. Then you target and write content for them. It may not be related to your product, but you’re providing something that he is looking for. When they search for it, you can appear there and market your product as well. So take advantage of it.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
I think the best $100 I spent recently is buying books in audible. I’m an avid reader and keep stocking lots of books.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
We use a software called ‘intercom’ that helps all the teams in our company to collect information about customers and analyze their buying patterns.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
There are two actually!
1. ‘Fifth Discipline’ by Peter M Senge – Ultimately, it is all about how we build an organization that is learning continuously, and wins during tough times in the future.
2. ‘The Innovators’ by Walter Isaacson – As an entrepreneur I see myself as a problem solver, leading to innovation. Hence the natural attraction to this book.
What is your favorite quote?
My mother tongue is Tamil, one of the oldest surviving classical languages in the world. An influential tamil philosopher once wrote, “Yaadhum Oore Yaavarum Kelir.” It means, “Every country is my country; everyone is my kin.” I’m always fascinated by this phrase, and amazed at how someone who lived and wrote this thousands of years ago had the clarity and vision of “global citizenship,” which we are yet to achieve today.
- Meetings don’t have to be stressful. Lead with the mindset that things are going to get better in the future.
- Don’t jump into an idea immediately. Let it sink in for a while. If it’s still interesting and meaningful, go ahead and make it happen.
- A business succeeds when the entire organization keeps learning together. Wisdom of the employees is the biggest asset.
- Failing is okay. Analyse ‘why’ it failed, and use the experience to make something bigger and better in the future.
- Employee morale heavily depends on the leader. Employees look up to their leader for gaining confidence and motivation.