Triad Software Services is an award-winning Sage Business Partner and provides software solutions and services. Triad, started by the husband-wife team of Moni and Shobha, has worked with over 85 customers in the region. They started the business in 2005, after working for 20 plus years in the industry.
Gulf News: How did Triad begin?
Shobha: The idea emerged from our work. My work experience was in software sales. Moni worked in diverse businesses like manufacturing and trade - in finance and operations. He had experience of buying software. We collectively sensed the supply and the demand side gap. We had been ‘tossing’ around the idea of starting a business for some time before we started Triad. The opportunity came along when Moni was looking for a change.
Moni: Wanting to start a business versus identifying the business to start are two different things. We were salaried employees. Two uncertainties confronted us; the fear of survival without a paycheck and the risk of capital loss. We were professionally qualified people. As a CFO I was buying and implementing software solutions. I experienced IT buyers’ pain; nobody was giving me what I wanted. The suppliers were pushing software products. Negligible solution consulting was available. This was the gap in the market. The region was growing and the gap was becoming wider. The size of the market was expanding as companies searched for solutions.
This sounds too logical.
Shobha: When we started the business we had an ‘approximate’ idea of the industry, business and customers. We truly ‘discovered’ the business over the years. The business refined and crystallised as our understanding of the market matured, we understood our personal capabilities, and we created capacity in Triad. Today I think we have a very strong understanding. I don’t think we had this strength of opinion when we started.
Uncertainty when you left?
Shobha: Definitely. When I got my first Triad card made nobody recognized the Triad logo I recollect noticing that it didn’t have a designation. All it said was Triad. People would ask me - ‘So who is Triad?’ And I would start explaining. One would occasionally wonder if the step had been right. We were figuring out who we were. Today I feel very proud when I talk about Triad, when people recognize the colours of Triad. It is truly gratifying. I feel very personally attached with every element of the business.
What does Triad do?
Moni: We advise mid-market customers on software solutions that are right for them. We started our practice by providing Sage ERP solutions.
Shobha: When I joined Triad I focused on CRM. When an entrepreneur meets a client he has prove himself anew. When I met my first CRM client I drew a diagram on a white board and convinced the customer about the value proposition. I then built up resources to deliver the value proposition. Triad has now has momentum and resources to offer ERP, CRM and HRMS solutions to customers in different industries to suit a range of budgets. We sell a service. The software product we propose and sell is complemented with our consulting capability, our real differentiating value proposition. From the customer point of view they are not searching for a product on a stand-alone basis. What they look for is a team that will understand their business needs and implement a solution. We offer technology solutions with a business focus for growing companies. When companies grow we help their systems evolve in-step with their business growth.
Moni: Our customers are companies who suddenly discover that the simple accounting solutions which had worked well in the past are no longer adequate for decision making and control. The trigger to evolve from a simple accounting system in a company is actually a search for a better way of working. It begins when the person running the company feels that he is unable to manage the operations or get things done on time. He then starts looking for ERP and CRM. Usually the person sensing this need and wanting to drive it is the CEO or CFO. But he is running the company and unable to spend time identifying what is required. We offer our services and say – ‘We understand your pains as a CEO or CFO. We will be your consultants and do it for you.’
How did you choose the software to represent?
Moni: We decided to work with a global and recognised product. Since we were going to add value around the product we decided not to struggle with product development. I drew upon my past professional role to understand what customers would need and how they would evaluate products. As a CFO I had been evaluating multiple software products to buy. The ERP product from Sage met my criteria, had the flexibility of working in different operating environments and supported databases. We decided on Sage as the product to represent. We met the principal, introduced our credentials, and asked for support. They agreed and we were in business. It was easier than I thought.
Shobha: This was a pure business decision. Sage is a clear leader in the mid market space and the mid market was growing at a rapid rate in the Middle East. Although I had the experience with Tier 1 solutions like Oracle and SAP we decided to start in the mid market space. Mid market also offered certain advantages – like a tighter scope, smaller project teams and speedier decision making, all of which lowered risks for a startup.
What do you think they saw in you?
Moni: They asked us, ‘How do you plan to run this business? ’. I explained to them my business plan — how as a CA I could relate to the requirements of companies looking for solutions And in a market thirsting for this approach how I would be uniquely different.
Shobha: Triad is now a Sage case study; a company started by a CA with no sales experience which then goes on to become one of their most successful partners.
Critical incidents of your startup journey?
Moni: Customer acceptance. We presented our ideas to different people when we started. Two things emerged. One, mere friendship does not lead to orders. Discussing an idea is different from asking a person to put money on the table. Two, learn to take advice from people who know and are adept at implementing businesses. Sage gave us guidance using best-practices of their other distributor-partners. Experiment with new ideas once business is up and running.
Did you develop ways of acquiring customers?
Moni: This happened organically. We didn’t think of a strategy initially but experimented and identified what worked for us. I had been cautioned by Sage that the sales cycle is long. My experience was pleasantly different. This happened because customers were looking for ‘solutions.’ They found that a Chartered Accountant talking about an IT product made much more sense. We could talk to CEOs and CFOs of companies, articulate their pain, and then offer real solutions.
Shobha: We are different today; strategic and tactical. For example we are actively leveraging our web presence. We use focused webminars and seminars to improve product awareness . We use Sage CRM to efficiently stay “in touch” with our prospects.
How much time did it take to get the first contract?
Shobha: The first client we got was where one of our employees had a business relationship. The second client we got through a phone call – from a well wisher.
Moni: The first thing we did when we started was to invest in a person who had experience with the product. I could spend time and learn the product. That wasn’t an option. I couldn’t be dividing my time facing the customer and learning the product. Revenue had to be generated quickly and time was a precious resource. We had our first revenue four months from the time we started.
How long before cash breakeven?
Moni: One and a half years. But after nine months in the market we knew the business would work; we had started collecting significant orders giving us the validation we needed that we were doing the right thing. It gave us the confidence to invest in people and to grow.
Shobha: In 2006-7 Sage gave us two awards – one for ERP and the other for CRM and orders increased from the Middle East. The award was a fantastic motivation but it also put a different kind of pressure on us; as it had raised the bar we had set for ourselves.
How did you get the pricing right?
Moni: This was not an issue because Shobha was in the business of selling. She knew the prevalent pricing in the market.
Shobha: We priced our offering competitive to the market. We were able to do this because the customer discerned value in us.
Where does that competence to customise the solutions lie? In both of you? Or have you put it into an organization process?
Moni: We believe quality and a commitment to support are important - especially when the requirements are not standard. . We are a small cohesive team. Whenever we talk about customer requirements, problems and solutions, we come into a room, discuss and come up with a solution. So everyone internalizes the commitment to act as a problem solver. Our employee turnover is very low. This has also enabled creation of a strong team.
Shobha: This process has enabled our ideals to percolate. We encourage team meetings to formulate solution. This has influenced the type of people we recruit. We look for the right attitude. Skill sets are easy to teach; we can help the staff get certified. We focus on how to create enabling conditions for each individual to think, develop, and grow. We keep helping them, nudging them, and supporting them.
Was recruitment a challenge?
Shobha: Initially. People buy into you as a person. They don’t join the organization. You have to sell your idea. They take a risk; what if it doesn’t work? We hired people with potential but who didn’t have a Sage certification and made them certified.
What worries you about the business?
Moni: Every day we think how to make it better.
Shobha: Are we doing it right? What are we getting right or wrong? Business has daily challenges, projects not following the original timeline, for example. We try to satisfy every customer. We try to see the customer’s point of view and work on that. I don’t think we will ever get a feeling that - ‘Aha, we have done it.’
Were there moments when you wondered why you had got into business?
Shobha: Yes – indeed, in the initial days.
Moni: Triad had got off to a good start. Market traction was there. Four years back when the crisis hit suddenly the revenue stopped. Customers didn’t pay. Cash flow became a real issue. We had to take difficult decisions but managed to hold onto our key employees and customers.
Was anything easier than what you had envisioned?
Shobha: Running your own business suddenly makes every moment productive. I work much harder as an entrepreneur but it doesn’t feel like hard work.
Moni: Finding solutions for customers. The Sage ecosystem has many partner products. This helped us provide clear solutions even to some requirements specific to Middle East.
Company : Triad Software Services (www.triadme.com)
Year established: 2005
Startup investment/current revenue: Dh100,000/Dh7 million
Education: Shobha has a MBA degree
Moni: Chartered accountant
Tips for entrepreneurs
Don’t do what you don’t know.
Differentiate friendly encouragement from real business — contacts don’t always become customers
Get ready to multi-task and quickly learn new things.
An entrepreneur has to roll up his sleeves and do what has to be done.
Entrepreneurs have no alibis for nonperformance. Can you handle acute responsibility?
Be agile and flexible. Know when to cut losses.
Entrepreneur needs to be gritty to stay the course.