What made you start your venture?
Starting up is not an easy decision to make, and while the urge to be an entrepreneur had always been there, there was always hesitancy when it came to actually give up a regular income and walking in the wild if you will.
We saw that the services industry was becoming highly commoditized. People were offering testing services in largely T&M modes. Whilst there was value to be gained, their target market – the IT services organizations didn’t leverage the key test design, process, and management skills.
These organizations were largely focused on providing base testing resources (volume centric services). We felt that the services industry in India had matured, where people would want independent, non-permanent, higher-end skills in the testing domain (value-centric services). Our aim was never to be a volume player, but through our point solutions, catalyze organizations on their growth path.
That, and the belief that, if we worked in the trenches with our customers, our customers would get valuable inputs that helps them, rather than being a generic bullet point on a slide.
What has been the key to your business’s success?
We have been selective in the areas we work in. Which has often meant (albeit with a lot of agonizing), of saying no to areas where we didn’t think we could add value. I think the trust gained with our customers has been the key. When your customer comes back and says ‘I know this may not be your cup of tea, but we thought we would check with you before we check with others’, we think we may be doing something intuitively right.
What are the major challenges in your line of business and how did/do you overcome them?
The biggest challenge on the learning side is the commoditization trap. Our uniqueness stems from the fact that we have carefully designed the programs, tailored it to organizational role definitions, and ensured the assessments are aligned with the organizational assessment frameworks. In the reach for scale, it is possible that some of these principles will get watered down.
We are making our processes robust, ensuring that there is a principal consultant aligned with the organization and ensuring that the tailoring is done to suit organizational realities. The people we bring on board will be our differentiating factor, and to that end, we have been lucky to get the right team in place. In a consulting mode, we offer point solutions – i.e. we come into an organization, solve a particular problem, enable the organization to work independently of us and exit.
While the trend is reversing, our industry is still not completely tuned to the consulting mode of operations – they would like to engage services vendors for specific periods of time. Given the changing scenario, outcome-based services like ours are probably the way to go for the future.
Do you have a mentor who guides/advice you on matters of the business?
We have been lucky to have worked with several veterans of the industry – CEOs of large organizations, serial entrepreneurs, like Sridhar Ranganathan of the Shankar Mahadevan Academy, people who run their own consulting houses, like PM Power, people who have been HR and Training heads of top 5 organizations.
These are people we turn towards, and who have always found the time to guide us in sticky situations. In addition, we have a good network of friends, who have always been around to offer critical and valuable support.
There is nothing like a peer review, to tell you where you are going wrong, and a chat with veterans, to tell you what pitfalls to anticipate (all for the price of a beer!) Have you benefitted from the use of any specific technology for your regular operations? We are Opensource fans! We have, in fact, built some accelerators, allowing various Test related Opensource tools to interact seamlessly – right from interfacing Test Management tools like TestLink to interface with Jenkins, Selenium, Bugzilla and also with Sprint Management tools like Kunagi.
We use Google Apps, Microsoft Apps, Amazon services – in the on-demand model. We leverage among others, SugarCRM (for customer management), Moodle (for training management & operations).
What strategy do you follow for Customer Satisfaction & Expansion?
I really wish there was a simple answer to that. But what I learned is that customers will come to you if they believe you. If you dialogue with them on how to spend their money right, they will listen. It means, we don’t do something with them then, but that’s fine.
You need them to be comfortable that they are going down the right path and back them. I think it is a matter of being obsessed with the fact that you are doing what is right for the customer and not lining your pockets for a service.
We also take feedback from different quarters, when we do an engagement. So our training feedback is not limited to getting inputs from the ‘students’, but also from their managers, and the HR and Learning organizations.
It means we are able to go back and provide inputs on areas of focus with all sets of inputs. We work with partners, who we think bring the best to the table. That helps us to provide extended services to our customers. We are extremely transparent with our customers on this and they trust our diligence, so it works to the benefit of all involved.
What, according to you, are the top 3 skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
Have a focus, sticking with it, but being ready to adapt – since market perceptions can be very different. Go out of your network, and get a true feel of what your services (or products) are worth to people who have no obligations towards you.
Being obsessed about your customer and being available for them 24×7. We have come across situations where we know we are not the right persons to deliver, but have stepped out of our zone to help them find the right partners.
Solve their problem, even if you have to stretch yourself. Lastly, never underestimate the value of a good network. The value that a good network provides cannot be quantified. Goodwill begets goodwill and potentially business.
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