The Story Behind Thiyagarajan Maruthavanan: Founder, Saas Expert, Early-Stage Startup Mentor And Director Of Upekkha
India is a country with a wealth of brilliant tech minds and a vibrant startup ecosystem. With Prime Minister Modi’s recent enthusiasm and support for science and technology, the country’s youth have become more passionate about innovation than ever before.
Thiyagarajan (Rajan) Maruthavanan is an Indian founder who has paved the way for today’s generation. He has also gone far beyond that to build opportunities and offer mentorship and support to those building the world of tomorrow. His SaaS expertise has been key in helping hundreds of startups get to product market fit, with many of those companies going on to become successful global brands.
Learning the ropes himself
After completing his bachelor’s degree at the International Institute of Information Technology, Thiyagarajan entered the workforce as a software engineer with Emuzed. However, when the company was acquired by Aricent, he decided it was the optimum moment to take a chance with entrepreneurship.
Motvik Technologies launched in 2006, and Thiyagarajan was both a co-founder and the CPO. His core responsibilities included market positioning, release plan for mobile app, business, and product development. The mobile app released, facilitated video streaming between phone cameras, the internet and PCs. – a similar concept to Twitter’s Periscope. Under his leadership, the business operated with great success for almost five years, impressively reaching a user base of over 1.5M with zero marketing spend. It also won the Global Mobile Monday Peer Award in 2008, as well as the USAID People’s Choice Award in 2009.
Paying it forward
Following his entrepreneurial success, Thiyagarajan was offered a position with Intuit as an Innovation Leader. In addition to coaching engineers on design thinking and lean startup to foster innovation, he also ran an accelerator program within the company. During his last year with Intuit, he was a key member of the Quickbooks product leadership team, which worked to build a new business case for GST in India. The project was successful and led to 2Xgrowth after just a year. During this time, Thiyagarajan came to understand how the location of a startup can have a strong influence on its market and, therefore, the product market fit must be adapted to any new geographic launch.
Thiyagarajan was also a part of the founding team for iSPIRT, a startup think tank that helps Indian founders to build global brands. Their mission is to assist local entrepreneurs in navigating both market and mindset shifts in order to become trailblazers and category leaders.
Reflecting on this period in his career, Thiyagarajan shares with pride: “During my stints at Intuit and iSPIRT, I helped hundreds of startups on their journey of getting to product market fit.” However, that’s not where this story ends.
Making even bigger waves with Upekkha
In 2018, Thiyagarajan was thrilled to launch the Upekkha community with his team of partners. Upekkha, which translates from Sanskrit as equanimity, is on a mission to help build high-growth profitable SaaS businesses, while also helping founders to stay in control of both their business and their life. It is a SaaS accelerator and early-stage fund for founders who care about optionality.
The motivation behind Upekkha was that Thiyagarajan and his team were constantly seeing startup founders being misled, with a lack of focus on building the fundamentals of their business. To solve this problem, they focused on coaching founders to make progress by building customer capital. Upekkha’s mission is help startups get their unit economics right, grow profitable in a sustainable way before hyperscaling growth and raising funds. They call this approach Value Saas, in contrast to Vanity SaaS which others were selling. Value SaaS, startups are capital efficient from the beginning, and can get to the first million dollar in revenue with little to no investment. Thereafter, they chart a path of growth through institutional venture capital investment, strategic M&A or organic hyper-scale. As a result, founders have greater optionality and can follow a path that best suits their business and personality to maximize outcome.
Upekkha, the SaaS accelerator has built a strong reputation amongst Indian founders and is often referred to as the YC for SaaS. They provide coaching and seed-stage capital to startups, and take equity in the business in exchange for the resources and support provided. The community of Upekkha is truly one-of-a-kind. Once a startup joins, they are a part of the community for life. The value of this became crystal clear during the pandemic, when the community of founders rallied together to support each other’s business to get through thechallenging times.
As of today, there are over a hundred startups following the path of Value SaaS with Upekkha. The entire first cohort of startups reached $1M in ARR, marking a 100% success rate of startups for the accelerator. Word of mouth, social media and their informative blog page are the primary stream channels for acquiring clientele. The accelerator itself became profitable last year and, to date, it has raised a $10M equity fund with backing from top SaaS founders and investors in India. It has also earned an impressive NPS score of 85.
In highlighting the difference between Upekkha and other accelerators, Thiyagarajan explains that “[Firstly] we only work with SaaS startups, so our focus on the SaaS vertical means that we provide highly focussed support. However, the [biggest] difference is that they focus on funding optionality, [whereas] we focus on founder optionality.”
Looking to the future, Thiyagarajan anticipates that their successful startups will progress beyond the initial milestone of a $1M in ARR. Soon enough, they will need further support and guidance in the form of capital or strategic partnerships. For this reason, he is working on structured support to provide debt capital, series A equity funding, and coaching through mergers and acquisitions. Thiyagarajan ,, has extensive experience in M&A, including the acquisition of Minjar by Nutanix. He estimates that Upekkha’s community will reach this next significant milestone within 18 months.
It is clear that Thiyagarajan is passionate about mentoring the next generation of startup founders. He has a wealth of personal experience, unique insight and a powerful ability to convert strategy into business results. He is driven to uplift the brilliant tech minds of India, and even served as a board member with Startup Bridge – a matchmaking platform that links early-stage startups with investors for global connectedness. As he continues his fight against Vanity SaaS, the startup ecosystem is sure to continue to improve.
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