How Saama Went from the “Seduction of More” to the “Wisdom of Less”

In my advisory work with startups and mature companies undergoing a transformation, I have found that they often pursue growth opportunities in an undisciplined manner and end up spreading themselves too thin. In the relentless pursuit of growth, no opportunity is passed up and no customer is turned away. However, growth is not about doing more. It is about doing fewer things better. To scale and succeed, startup companies need to pursue disciplined growth by focusing on a few domains where they can really win. This was the central message of a book I wrote a few years ago, called Fewer, Bigger, Bolder.

Two years ago, I met Suresh Katta, the founder, and CEO of Saama Technologies. As he shared the story of his fascinating company, I realized that Saama was a poster child for the principles of focused growth that I have been talking about for years. Since its founding in 1997, Saama had evolved from an IT services company to an IP-based platform company. Its Fluid Analytics Engine (FAE) platform allowed solutions to be built quickly for a number of vertical markets, including insurance, health care, and life sciences. By the end of 2015, however, Suresh and his leadership team realized that they were chasing too many rabbits. They were feeling the need to become more focused on their growth strategy but were nervous about narrowing their target markets. I shared a key insight with Suresh – “No market is too narrow if you go deep enough.” By building deep domain expertise, companies can create sustainable differentiation and drive profitable growth. This insight resonated deeply with Suresh.  He and his team became convinced that Saama’s future growth would best be driven by a focused vertical market strategy.

Since that discussion two years ago, Saama embarked upon an ambitious initiative to grow through a focused vertical market strategy by focusing its attention on the Life Sciences vertical market and the Clinical Operations Management domain. The company made a bold decision not to pursue opportunities outside this vertical market and domain. This focused approach led to the creation of the Life Science Analytics Cloud (LSAC) solution for clinical operations management. LSAC is more than a platform – it solves an important business problem for life sciences companies – how to get drugs to market faster and cheaper by using analytics to reduce the time and cost of clinical trials.

Suresh introduced me to three of his leadership team members – Sagar Anisingaraju, Karim Damji, and Leon Surgeon. We collaborated on a case study project to document Saama’s evolution and growth strategy. We have developed a case study, which will be published by the Kellogg School of Management and will be listed in the Harvard Business School Publishing catalog to be taught at business schools worldwide. The case study showcases Saama as an example of a company that has benefitted from a philosophy of “less is more”, with respect to market opportunities. Saama’s focused strategy has driven strong organic growth over the past two years and I am confident that the company will continue on this growth trajectory. I have greatly enjoyed collaborating with Suresh and the Saama team. MBA students in the years to come will learn valuable lessons about growth strategy from the Saama case study.

Mohanbir Sawhney
McCormick Foundation Professor of Technology
Clinical Professor of Marketing
Director, Center for Research in Technology & Innovation
Kellogg School of Management
Northwestern University
mohans@kellogg.northwestern.edu

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About Mohanbir Sawhney

Prof. Sawhney is a globally recognized scholar, author, and speaker in strategic marketing, IT, and e-business strategy. His research and teaching interests include marketing in the connected economy, IT and business value, customer-centric organization design and business innovation in large companies.  He has been widely recognized as a thought leader. Business Week named him as one of the 25 most influential people in e-Business. Crain’s Chicago Business named him a member of “40 under 40”, a select group of young business leaders in the Chicago area. The Editors of Fortune Magazine invited him to their Brainstorm 2001 and 2002 conferences, as one of the “smartest people we know”. He is a Fellow of the prestigious World Economic Forum.


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