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Young Asian man worker doing stocktaking of product in cardboard box on shelves in warehouse by using digital tablet and pen (istock)
Young Asian man worker doing stocktaking of product in cardboard box on shelves in warehouse by using digital tablet and pen (istock)

As tech adoption quickens, firms reach out for help

Companies are adopting digital tools faster than ever before, and startups that aid digital adoption are on a hiring spree

All organizations, big and small, rely more than ever before on software products as covid-19 accelerates digital adoption. But they face a challenge, especially now with a remote workforce. Their employees need to make the best use of the tech products being deployed.

It’s one thing to invest in shiny, new CRM (customer relationship management) or data analytics software, but cost efficiency depends on how employees adopt it. Traditionally, change management has relied on guides, videos or demos, but they are far from effective. The world has moved on to expect everything on demand, from movies on Netflix to shopping on Amazon. It’s the same with tech training.

You need a tool that helps within the flow of work, in the moment you need it, so that you learn even as you do something with a tech product. That’s how cloud-based tools emerged in the past decade to provide in-app guidance and interactive walkthroughs that are context-sensitive.

That’s why Bengaluru- and San Francisco-based Whatfix, whose digital adoption tool is used by over 500 enterprises, has been on a hiring spree. “In the April-June quarter, we recruited 55 people and we’re adding at least 50 more this quarter. Before covid-19, we had around 230 employees. So nearly a third of our strength has come in the last six months," says Khadim Batti, co-founder and CEO of Whatfix.

Wider market

The seven-year-old startup, one of India’s global SaaS winners with 100 of the Fortune 1000 companies in its customer roster, raised its series C funding round of $32 million from Sequoia Capital and others in February. The aim was to broaden into European and Australian markets, having proven itself in the US, which has two-thirds of Whatfix customers.

The tool comes into play in a variety of enterprises. Europe’s leading credit management company, Experian, has Whatfix embedded in its CRM software by Salesforce. The Netherlands-based ManpowerGroup found it handy while switching its workforce to Connexys, an applicant tracking system. Cisco uses it for onboarding enterprise customers to its tech products.

Whatfix integrates with a product’s manual to create “flows" that become available to users in a personalized way. Last year it acquired Airim, an AI-powered personalization company, to enhance this capability. Thus, two users would get different guidance based on their in-app or on-site behaviour and intent as well as other factors. It helps track improvements in usage as well, by analysing where users get stuck or how long they take.

“Based on metrics we measure with our customers, training time for change management typically reduces by 60%. Support tickets come down by 50%," says Batti, adding that more effective guidance has a ripple effect. “The accuracy of data fed by users goes up by 20%. This, in turn, results in better financial data, sales forecasting and so on." Productivity improves, making companies more efficient, and any tech upgrades or new features can be rolled out fast across multiple centres.

When Whatfix started out in 2013, digital adoption software was a nascent category. Since then a number of players have emerged, such as Silicon Valley-based EdCast’s MyGuide, Boston-based Appcues and Munich-based Userlane that recently raised $12 million. One of the best funded is Israel’s WalkMe, founded in 2011, which became a unicorn with a $90 million funding round in December 2019.

Where Whatfix tries to differentiate is in its enterprise focus. Both founders, Batti and Vara Kumar Namburu, worked at Huawei Technologies in Bengaluru. In 2010, they launched their first SaaS product SearchEnabler, which provided specific guidance to enhance SEO for small and medium enterprises. Soon, they saw customers abandoning their product because RoI was poor. And that was because customers were not implementing the SEO recommendations made by the product. Batti and Namburu started creating in-app flows to guide users of SearchEnabler and discovered this was a pain point to solve for all SaaS products. In hindsight, Batti wishes they had rolled out SearchEnabler earlier, instead of building the product for a year-and-a-half before getting customer input.


Whatfix first targeted the long tail of SaaS companies that needed help to cut friction in product adoption. One of its first global customers was Boston-based Maxwell Health that has created 67 guides using Whatfix. Once it got traction and a sustainable revenue stream, Whatfix turned to large enterprise customers.

Among the first adopters in India was fashion portal Myntra that was acquired by Flipkart in 2014. Rajul Jain, who was then senior VP responsible for Myntra’s supply chain, explains why Whatfix was a godsend. One of the challenges in warehousing for ecommerce is the level of granularity and accuracy needed in shipping the right products to customers’ homes. This is different from bulk parcels that go to retailers, who, in turn, sort out products and display them for customers to pick.

Turnaround times are also much shorter at ecommerce warehouses, which are now called fulfilment centres, reflecting their primary purpose to fulfil customer orders as soon as possible. They are more factory-like in their labour-intensive sorting, packing and dispatch operations. This makes it critical to train workers on digital tools, and even more so because attrition rates are high. “Almost the entire workforce of a fulfilment centre gets replaced each year because attrition rates are 8-10% a month," says Jain. That means 80-100 newbies join the fulfilment centre each month.

If digital tools become easier to use, hiring becomes fast and simple too, because you don’t need the newcomers to be well-qualified or experienced. They can learn quickly on the job with rudimentary literacy. But they do need to be able to perform all the steps required in a job accurately. That’s why in-app guidance is vital “because it’s not like taking an exam where you ‘pass’ if you get half the marks. Here you need to get everything right."

“What made it easy to adopt Whatfix was that it didn’t need any technology change at our end. It could be embedded into our existing technology," adds Jain.

Over the years, Whatfix learned to adapt to different use cases. Vara Kumar shifted to San Francisco early on in the journey to have his ear to the ground as most of the customers were in the US. He understood how the requirements of an enterprise deploying it for its own workforce differed from those of tech product makers that wanted to use it to ease onboarding of users. “We spoke to customers and started building specific features tailored to particular personae," says Batti.

Digital adoption software is an evolving category that will need to keep abreast with new directions in tech.

Malavika Velayanikal is a consulting editor with Mint. She tweets @vmalu.

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