Nirdesh dai is a prolific entrepreneur, a kind human being, and an amazing big brother (from another mother).
He currently serves as the CEO at Veda—a SaaS based startup focused on transforming how educational institutions view and manage their data. At the date of this interview, Veda’s client base has already spanned over 900+ schools and colleges in Nepal and the startup is preparing to venture into international markets.
This interview article dives deep into his story, mindset, and business practices as the CEO of a high-growth Nepalese startup. To learn more about him, please check his LinkedIn profile.
Q. You’ve built one of the biggest SaaS companies in Nepal with a team of two other excellent co-founders alongside you. What did your early years of business look like?
In our early years, I, and my other two co-founders, were already aware of our strengths so we had clarity on who would be responsible for what functions in our company.
However, we did face a number of challenges while starting out because we were from a tech background with no knowledge whatsoever of accounting, finance, legal aspects, and management. To sort this out, we had to go through a steep learning curve where we took consulting and mentorship from C-suite executives of other high-growth Nepalese companies.
Another challenge we faced was learning how to cope with the transition of growing from a team size of 20 people to 50 people.
In my personal experience, it felt relatively easier to handle 20 people with three co-founders in the team since all three of us knew everyone on a one-on-one basis. But as the team size grew, we struggled to keep our team motivated as we didn’t have a system in place for increasing team productivity along with the increase in team size.
We then introduced a human resource management system that helped ease the process and we could work smoothly even when the team size exceeded 60 members.
So, by solving one problem after another, we’ve been able to come up to where we are right now.
Q. What were the difficulties you faced when managing a growing team size?
When the team size is small, you know everyone in person. Things are being done and monitoring is also easy. But it was difficult for us to handle more than 20 people since the co-founding team was occupied. I was traveling to different cities for our growth and the remaining two co-founders were taking the lead in tech and operations.
The first difficulty here is the flow of communication. The next is not being able to monitor everything given we had no systems introduced back then to ease these processes.
So, understanding it would be hard to look after a bigger team if we do not have people with leadership qualities in our team, we created a leadership team consisting of leaders with their own specialties. We have been implementing things differently which is working on today’s date.
Q. How has being a techie helped/back-fired in your initial pursuit of starting a business?
As techies, we have a biased mentality towards product development since we believe a great product is the key to a successful business. It is also equally important to figure out how to tackle day-to-day business issues, how to manage our team, how to deal with our clients, how to enter the market, how to communicate our product to our clients, etc.
There are more significant parts of the equation in business that, as engineers, we need to be made aware of.
Given that case, our transition to business from tech was slow as we had to unlearn and relearn a lot over the years.
Q. In the transition period from tech to business, you also worked a full-time job. How did all three of you get together wanting to work on an idea?
While we had good salaries in our full-time jobs, we as youngsters had the zeal in us to seek growth through skill development, and potential utilization which made us quit our jobs.
Starting out, we worked on a few big consulting projects (at least at that time for us), and then we felt the need to shift our gears to building a product company as there were very few product companies in Nepal. Although our first product was good, it was a failure as we didn’t put on enough effort to research the market.
Then, we stumbled upon a problem that an existing school was facing and jumped into finding the solution to solve that problem. We then had a niche defined for us to work in the field of Nepal’s education giving life to Veda.
Q. When you started inGrails as a service-based company, what did your sales process look like at that time?
When we started, we didn’t have a business development manager. We were the salespeople as well as the business development people, basically doing everything on our own. Luckily, the projects we worked on came from the clients within our network who knew our strengths.
It is true that people have to go through various bidding processes showcasing their certifications and all. However, we didn’t have to go through all of those. We had pretty good projects which came from our network and connections which in the case of Nepal works well if you know the right people.
Q. Veda has 800+ schools as seen on the website, what does your sales team look like in the present scenario?
The sales team is structured in 3 ways.
The team lead and manager attend the crucial meetings, and plan sales along with the whole team and sales representatives are responsible for door-to-door visits and calls.
Furthermore, the sales manager, our growth manager, and finance manager check if the targets are met. The finance manager oversees if the targeted revenue is in place, the growth manager oversees if the target is met, sales manager sees whether the number of targeted schools is onboarded.
Q. What is your go-to marketing practice?
Since we are B2B and not B2C, we need more than just social media influence to bring us sales. We need to understand how they (business customers) look at us. So, we focus on increasing our brand value to drive more inbound sales. By doing this, we are able to drive down our inbound marketing costs as well.
Furthermore, affiliate groups like PABSON, HISSAN, etc. also help in spreading the word about our products in their schools, so word-of-mouth communication also contributes to our sales.
Besides this, we also organize large-scale events in big cities in Nepal. Those events are more about discussions on improving the educational field than about Veda and its doings.
Such events help our customers understand more about us, changing their perception of who we are if there ever was one that was misguided. Also, news articles and coverages help us reach a wider range. Thus, our focus is mainly on events and collaboration for marketing more than social media.
Regarding international sales, we have a market in Brunei where there are dealers selling our services as we cannot register ourselves legally there. We take a certain percentage from them which comes to us through Nepal Rastra Bank. We also have one school in Japan as our customer.
Q. What does your sales process look like?
We have a sequential sales process.
Our sales team calls the prospective school and takes an appointment. Then, they go in person, pitch about Veda, and give the product demonstration. 60 to 70% of the time, an MOU gets signed on the spot.
There is a follow-up regardless of if the school gets onboarded or not.
If the school is onboarded, the sales team completes the signup process and hands over the responsibility to the support team for the onboarding process.
We also give a % incentive to the sales team for every sale they bring in and the same process applies to the dealers. Dealers report to our dealership manager and sales head.
Q. You also have dealers who help you in your sales efforts. How did it start?
There’s an interesting story behind getting our first dealer.
We were in Pokhara to pitch our product to schools. When our to-be first dealer heard of our product, he liked it so much that he decided to quit his existing job and work for us in expanding our product. The same happened in Itahari.
Q. How do you onboard and attract dealers to work with you?
There are cases when our own sales team onboards a greater number of schools than our dealers. In such a case, we skip the dealership. In some places, we do not find dealers and we set up our own sales team there.
To find and confirm the dealers we go look out for the ones who have already worked with the schools in the past in other dealings. We seek their reviews from the school itself and that is how we find the right people to work with us.
Q. How open are you to sales coaching and training?
I think when the company grows, there is a need for a consultant. We at Veda, also have a training session scheduled for next month. I think we should train people in sales and marketing. In Nepal, people do not have an idea of sales and marketing. Even if they have an MBA degree, they do not have the idea of sales as they haven’t done the selling by themselves. Selling a bike and selling software are two entirely different things.
In our case, regarding sales, when the customer comes to our site, how we communicate on the site to the visitor is the deal breaker.
Also as a salesperson, how you dress up, how you communicate, and how calm and composed you are, make a difference. Who’s in the field selling the product/service also matters to get the deal. For eg., there are some cases where our sales conversion was not possible until we in the senior leadership, went in to have a conversation.
We’re not experts. We are like jacks of all trades. So we, of course, need training.
Q. How do you look at client relationship management? When you are not able to retain the client relationship, you are going to lose the market, what are your insights on client relationship management after actually running it behind the scenes?
Schools, parents, and students all are our clients. We have our stickiness metrics for the clients which are retention and usability.
In terms of school, we are in touch with the school every 15 days and we try to understand the perspectives. Once there was a small issue we got to know in a casual conversation with one of our client’s users. Tracing that issue we figured out the school’s setting was at fault. These sorts of minor issues are known to us only when we’re in touch with our clients and that is our first priority. Our support team is on standby to fix any issues arising.
Besides, we also take feedback surveys with our clients in order to improve ourselves. We organize the events yearly to have meaningful and purpose-driven discussions on the betterment of the education sector in Nepal.
To sum up, having conversations and staying in touch helps maintain the relationship in general.
Q. What are the top 3 suggestions you have for sales that when adopted by a school-facing brand, become way smoother for making a sale?