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The acceptance of our platform’s prowess by enterprises has propelled the company’s growth in the Indian market: Pramod Sharda, Icewarp

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In a recent interview with Express Computer, Pramod Sharda, CEO of Icewarp India & Middle East, delves into the company’s recent success story in India and its global impact. Sharda sheds light on Icewarp’s journey over the past seven years, emphasising significant milestones achieved amidst a dynamic post-COVID growth trajectory. He also provided insights into Icewarp’s market share contribution, competitive strategy against global giants, engagement with partners, and plans for future expansion, including targeting the SMBs and MSMEs sector. Through this interview, Sharda articulates Icewarp’s commitment to innovation, customer-centric approach, and strategic partnerships, positioning the company for continued growth and market leadership in India and beyond.

Can you share your recent success story from India?

Alright, so as we step into 2024, it marks a significant milestone for us, marking seven years of our journey in the country. Reflecting on the past year, it was filled with excitement and achievements. The post-COVID growth trajectory differed vastly from the pre-COVID era, and our numbers reflect that. We’ve witnessed robust growth in customer acquisition, with a warm reception from the community. From being present in a few verticals a few years back, we now proudly cover every vertical, with a significant presence among the top players in each. Our customer base has also seen substantial growth, with larger enterprises now becoming a norm for us. What was once considered a milestone—having customers with 9,000 mailboxes—has now become routine, with clients boasting 45,000 to 50,000 mailboxes or even more. The scale of our operations has expanded considerably, with a current run rate of around 2,500, marking a substantial leap from previous years.

Geographically, we’ve also made significant strides, establishing our presence in key locations like Pune, Delhi, and Bangalore, with plans to further expand into Delhi, Chennai, and Hyderabad. This expansion aligns with our goal of covering the entire country, ensuring accessibility for all. Moreover, our efforts have not gone unnoticed in the government sector, where we’ve secured some significant projects, further bolstering our credibility.

In respect to our geographical expansion, our product portfolio has undergone significant enhancement, particularly in response to the evolving security landscape post-COVID. Recognising the paramount importance of data security, access control, and leak prevention, we’ve invested heavily in augmenting our offerings. Our platform now includes comprehensive solutions ranging from zero-trust access platforms to data loss prevention (DLP) tools, web security, and mobile device management (MDM). These additions ensure holistic security coverage, addressing the diverse needs of our customers across industries, including BFSI.

Our commitment to data integrity extends to data archiving solutions, catering to the growing regulatory requirements for data retention. With our expanded portfolio and robust infrastructure, we now offer end-to-end security solutions hosted locally in India, ensuring data sovereignty and compliance with local regulations. Our expanding network of data centres further reinforces our commitment to scalability and reliability, with plans for additional centres across key regions.

Could you provide insight into India’s contribution to your company’s global presence in terms of market share or percentage?

I believe this question prompts a moment of reflection, a rare instance where I pause to assess our journey. It’s undeniable that being part of a well-established, global entity can sometimes make our contributions seem modest in comparison. Yet, when we consider our relatively young age in the grand scheme of things, the realisation that we contribute around 4 to 5% is actually quite significant. It’s a testament to our growth trajectory and the impact we’ve managed to achieve within just seven years.

Despite being a smaller slice of a larger pie, it’s crucial to recognise the value of our contributions. Every percentage point represents a substantial amount of resources and effort, which collectively propel the company forward. Moreover, our pace of growth is remarkable, positioning us as the fastest-growing segment within our geographical scope.

In terms of revenue, while it may not yet rival the figures of our larger counterparts, it’s important to acknowledge the substantial revenue we generate. It speaks to our potential and the promising trajectory we’re on.

What factors have contributed to your success in competing against global giants in your niche domain? What would you consider your USP?

Sure, I believe the key differentiator for us as a company, as an OEM, was our approach of being global yet local. This translated into establishing a dedicated local team, encompassing all departments except for R&D and buying development. Essentially, we became an extension of all our partner companies at the local level, which made a significant impact.

The next pivotal decision was investing in local data centres, a move fraught with risk back in 2017 when cloud adoption was still in its infancy. Unlike our competitors, except for Google, who had a longstanding presence, we took a leap of faith by investing millions, signalling our long-term commitment and reliability. This move not only ensured low latencies, enhancing user experience, but also aligned with the emerging discourse around local data privacy laws in India.

Listening to customer feedback proved invaluable. Their insights led to a recalibration of our offerings, resulting in a significant expansion from just four plans to a diverse array of options. Our responsiveness to customer needs, coupled with substantial investments in R&D, propelled continuous innovation, earning us recognition in the market.

Today, our platform stands as a testament to this evolution, often drawing comparisons with industry giants like Microsoft and Google. The confidence instilled in us by our customers serves as validation of our platform’s capabilities. We’ve achieved parity with our competitors, offering proprietary solutions alongside a comprehensive suite of services.

While marketing and branding efforts have undoubtedly contributed to our success, it’s ultimately the customer acceptance of our platform’s prowess that has propelled us to where we are today.

How has our brand successfully navigated a competitive market landscape dominated by established players, particularly in the context of a shifting customer preference towards our platform?

Absolutely, let me break it down. Our brand has faced significant challenges entering a market already dominated by established players. However, we’ve positioned ourselves as leaders in what I would term a “churn market.” Many of the previous Indian brands in this space have faded into obscurity, while customers are increasingly gravitating towards us. This trend is evident as a majority of customers have either already switched to us or are in the process of doing so.

Our platform, ISO, has emerged as the preferred choice for customers looking to transition from these legacy brands. This recognition has been reinforced by our consistent recognition and awards received over the past six years. CIOs, in particular, have embraced our platform, actively advocating for us and accelerating our growth trajectory.

Has this development made it easier for you as a leader to engage in conversations with prospective customers?

Initially, when we embarked on this journey, the landscape was vastly different. Engaging with clients meant dedicating significant time to introductions and establishing our identity, often spanning a half-hour session. Queries about our background, location, and other particulars were par for the course. However, over the past two to three years, this paradigm has shifted. Our brand has gained traction, with word-of-mouth referrals and individuals transitioning to our company contributing to heightened awareness. While our presence is particularly robust in Mumbai, where we are headquartered, achieving similar recognition in other regions, notably the South, remains a work in progress.

India, being a diverse nation, presents unique challenges akin to traversing national borders. Despite being part of the same country, regional distinctions persist, influencing perceptions and expectations. For instance, a client in Mumbai may express satisfaction with our services, while their counterpart in Bangalore seeks assurance of a local presence. Overcoming such regional biases necessitates establishing branches and fostering local relationships to dispel any lingering doubts.

How do you plan to expand your presence in the SMBs and MSMEs sector, considering their significance in achieving mass product status, and do you have any existing strategies or plans for vertical expansion in this industry domain?

Certainly, the evolution of our strategy has been instrumental in our journey. Initially, we aimed for larger clients but faced challenges gaining entry, as we lacked references from smaller businesses. Recognising this hurdle, we pivoted our strategy, consciously targeting larger enterprises, and successfully secured their partnerships. This shift has facilitated easier conversations with smaller businesses, as they now recognise our brand from our engagements with industry leaders.

Entering this space has emboldened us, and we’re now actively investing efforts to expand our presence further. The sector we’ve entered, particularly in industries like Pharma and urban manufacturing, boasts rapid employee growth and consumption, making it ripe for our solutions. These larger enterprises present greenfield opportunities, as many are yet to transition to modern platforms, providing us with a compelling market to tap into.

Our current focus lies on Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs), with a nuanced understanding of the diverse definitions of SMEs in India. While the definition may vary, we’ve set our sights on MSMEs with up to 1000 employees, leveraging our superior offerings tailored for their needs. However, we remain cautious about the enterprise segment due to the complexities involved in handling their diverse requirements, necessitating personalised support and guidance.

In navigating this landscape, we prioritise preparedness, understanding the nuances of communication and support needed by businesses of varying sizes. While some may prefer written communication, others may require direct engagement due to language barriers or technical limitations. Our approach is rooted in empathy and readiness, ensuring we cater to the unique needs of each client segment without compromising on service quality.

How do you perceive the role of your partners in shaping the overall game plan, considering your ongoing engagement with them and the quality of content they provide?

So, looking back at last year, it’s evident that more than a quarter of our revenue came from channels, which is a significant contribution to our overall performance. Currently, Anita has assumed complete ownership of channel management, dedicating her efforts to strategically aligning accounts and partners. This shift allows us to focus more effectively on channel development. Moving forward, our primary objective for this year is to establish robust partnerships at the regional level across India. While we do have several branches, our preference is to leverage partnerships for on-the-ground presence rather than relying solely on direct models. This approach underscores our commitment to collaboration and highlights the importance of partnerships in our growth strategy.

Also, our approach is clear, we have no intention of solely driving business from us. Instead, we aim to collaborate with partners to expand our reach and enhance our margins. However, we acknowledge that this strategy may evolve over time based on our learnings and experiences. When establishing a new branch, our priority is to ensure a proper method to enter the market. If we are fortunate enough to secure reliable partners, our preference is to pursue joint ventures. Nevertheless, in cases where suitable partners are not available, we are prepared to explore direct approaches or alternative strategies to achieve our objectives.

What direction have you set for yourself personally and for the organisation, considering we’re at the beginning of a new year and nearing the end of the financial year?

Our recent planning sessions have set the trajectory for the company, with a shift in perspective towards a more immediate time frame, concentrating on the current year while laying the groundwork for the subsequent two years. This approach serves as a foundation for our overarching goals, driving everything we do towards achieving our desired outcomes.

Over the next three years, you can expect to witness substantial growth and expansion, both in terms of scale and market presence. Our aim is to establish a significantly larger footprint in the market, with deeper penetration and broader offerings to complement our services. We’re actively engaging with partners to solidify our position, aiming for a more robust and pervasive presence across various sectors.

While numerical targets are important, our focus has shifted towards qualitative measures of success. It’s not just about achieving certain numbers within a specific timeframe; rather, it’s about ensuring the right kind of penetration into target markets, establishing a presence in key cities, and forging strong partnerships that align with our objectives.

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