Andrew: Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy where I interview entrepreneurs about how they built their businesses, and I do it for an audience of real entrepreneurs. And right now, what I’m doing is a day-long session of interviews. And every time I do these day-long sessions, I forget that I should plan food ahead and have some food delivered.
Michelle, who’s watching this live is saying, “Andrew, why don’t you just have somebody deliver it and then bring it into your door and then between interviews you can go and grab it?” And you know what? You’re absolutely right, Michelle, that’s what I should be doing. But I’m on the 12th floor of this beautiful building and a lot of the delivery people don’t know how to get up here. They don’t have . . . Anyway, that’s my thing. But as you can see, I still have a ton of energy.
And part of the reason why I’ve got a ton of energy is I’ve been fascinated by this organization called YEC, and I wanted to get to know the entrepreneurs who are part of that organization because I know that they do a big screening process and then they work with those entrepreneurs help them grow their companies. And so I said, “Hey, YEC, can you please introduce me to some of your entrepreneurs?” They said, “Sure.”
And joining me is one of those entrepreneurs. Her name is Shilpi Sharma. Shilpi recognized the problem that I recognize as someone who does ads in my podcast. A lot of you people are listening to my ads. You love my products that I’m talking about and you forget to go to the whatever.com/mixergy URL and so you just go and Google them and when you Google them, you go to the company site and you sign up. And I don’t get credit for it.
Now, do I feel bad about it? Yeah, but I’ll live. The bigger problem is for bigger brands where there’s a lot of conversation happening online, a lot of ads that get seen by their customers that influence the purchase decision, and then they don’t know which of these ads actually led to a sale, which didn’t, what’s working, what’s not, why is it working, what’s going on. And so Shilpi said, “I think we can solve it. I think I’ve got a solution for it.” The company that she created to solve that is called Kvantum. It’s like quantum in Hungarian. Is that right?
Andrew: Kvantum. They build technology that changes the way that brands measure the marketing impact on sales. By the way, I remember one of the first things I learned in business school was the difference between marketing and sales. The professor asked a trick question to see who read the book and who didn’t. He said, “What is marketing?” Anyone who said sales, clearly did not read the book. Sales is what happens is part of marketing, right? Marketing is where you talk about the brand, you run some ads, and then there’s someone who maybe gets on and closes the sale, that person is the salesperson. There’s a person at the cash register, that person and that part of the process is sales. Marketing is all the stuff that gets to sales, but what part of marketing impact sales? We don’t know. Kvantum is seeking to understand that.
And we can find out how she built up this company thanks to two phenomenal companies that sponsor me. The first, HostGator. They don’t know how many people are listening and then end up buying unless maybe they work with Kvantum. It’s a HostGator. I’ll talk to you about why they are a good hosting company. And the second company is the company that does email marketing just right. It’s called ActiveCampaign. I’ll talk about those later. First, Shilpi, good to have you here.
Shilpi: Thank you for having me.
Andrew: What’s your revenue? How much are you guys doing?
Shilpi: So, we’re somewhere in $2 million.
Andrew: Two million?
Andrew: Okay. I think I saw on it was Crunchbase that you guys have $1 million in investment. Is that right?
Shilpi: We did in 2013. Yes.
Andrew: Have you taken out any more since then?
Shilpi: No, we actually returned half of it.
Andrew: You did?
Andrew: How did you return half of it? What was that like?
Shilpi: It was not necessarily we wanted to but when we got the investment, half of it was equity and half of it was the debt.
Andrew: Was what? Sorry. And the other half . . .
Shilpi: The other half was the debt.
Andrew: Was debt and . . . Oh, convertible debt.
Andrew: And you decided not to convert it and you returned it back.
Shilpi: We decided not to convert and they wanted the money back, so we did it.
Andrew: And did they decide not to convert because the company wasn’t doing as well as they hoped, it wasn’t going to . . .
Shilpi: No. It was . . . Actually, there was a lot of internal issues. And we didn’t get it from like VC. We got it from strategic investor.
Shilpi: When you’re a first-time founder, you don’t always get a VC funding. But we got really good mentors. So, one of the mentor actually loved our pitch and he was leading this almost like $500 million services company, a global company and they were two co-founders in that company. And one of the co-founders wanted to invest, in other words said, “Oh, yeah, great. We are a services company. You guys are doing cutting-edge product and seems like it totally makes sense. Once you build the product, we have the whole salesforce that can go and sell the product.” So, that was the deal and that’s how we went with them. Six months, eight months into it, co-founder wanted to split because one wanted to be just pure services, another who one wanted to take our product was more like, “Let’s get into AI. Let’s get into ML.” And they’ve been [inaudible 00:05:06] the minute he exited, they wanted money back.
Andrew: Okay, got it.
Andrew: Before you were doing this, what were you doing?
Shilpi: So, I’ve been . . . Initial part of my career, I was a software engineer. Actually by education. I’m a physicist. Never went in since after that. But I started career as a software engineer and like everyone else in India at that point in time, 1999, Y2K was coming and we were the survival. We were saving the world from Y2K.
Andrew: What was the pipeline to take a kid like you from a small town in India and turn you into an engineer? How did they get students like you to become engineers in India?
Shilpi: So, it’s heavily competitive. I think, obviously, you need to have . . . The school I went to is an institute of technology and it’s their . . .
Andrew: That’s the top school there, right? Yeah.
Shilpi: Yes, it is. Their acceptance rate is extremely low. And in physics . . . So, I didn’t go for engineering, I went for physics. And they were only 15 kids they were taking every year. So, it has been . . . Basically, you need to be focused, you have to have good grades, you have to clear the entrance exam, and they just keep it so competitive that if you’re not good enough, you won’t get it.
Andrew: And so because they make it so competitive, you were encouraged to keep training for it? Did the schools, the elementary schools, the high schools keep pushing you for it or is it just your family?
Shilpi: No. A lot of kids . . . Yeah, there are coaching institutes. There is a whole [ecosystem 00:06:48] now, which is the whole process has been mechanized, so it’s very easy. Once you decide that you want to go to IIOT, the whole path is set. But I am from a very, very small town. My dad was a clerk. And we never had so much money that I could go out. And being a girl at that point in time, going out in a different [inaudible 00:07:11] just studying by yourself was not heard of. So, they didn’t want me to go out anywhere because it’s not safe, it’s expensive. And I did all whatever I could with whatever resources I had. So, I find myself really blessed that I got an opportunity.
Andrew: What I’m getting at is, was it your parents who kept telling you, “Shilpi, go study, be ready, go take the next course so that you can be ready to get into the Indian Institute of Technology,” or was it coming from you? Was it coming from your school? Where did that push come from?
Shilpi: I always love to have some inspiration in my environment, and that has been my driving factor so far. Even . . . Whenever I’m not able to do something, I look up to someone who is next to me, and if they can do it, they become my inspiration. So, I don’t have a role model, but I have a lot of inspirations.
Andrew: And so you had someone who did it, a few people who did it and you said, “I can do it too.” And by your own sheer force of will you started studying and started preparing for it.
Andrew: Got it. And then you became a software engineer at Tata Consultancy. You then moved on to being a consultant at PricewaterhouseCoopers.
Andrew: Where did the idea for this business come from?
Shilpi: So, while I was . . . Actually, after Pricewaterhouse, I went to another boutique firm called Trianz. And at that point in time, my co-founder of Kvantum was also doing MBA. And while he was doing MBA, he did a project with one of the CMOs at Levi’s in Bay Area. And he was actually at that point in time at North Face. And he just happened to say that, “Build this as a software, there are a lot of companies who love to buy because there’s just no one who does analytics well and there are just so many products.”
Andrew: Because he was doing this for North Face.
Shilpi: He was doing this for North Face.
Andrew: Because North . . . I’m sorry. Because North Face wanted to know which of their ads were actually leading to sales?
Shilpi: Yes. Yes.
Andrew: And what kind of ads are we talking about? Television ads, radio ads, internet ads?
Shilpi: Everything. Everything.
Andrew: And they couldn’t figure out what is directly leading to a sale.
Shilpi: It’s very hard. It’s a very hard problem because most of the vendors and the brand at that point in time and even like years ago they were [inaudible 00:09:37] working that they were trying to tag everything. So, every single thing they wanted to leave the crumbs so that they can figure out what’s the path is and then it was very easy to say, “Okay. Some of the sales came from this click and that particular ad and that particular ad.” But for CPGs where most of their sales is actually not e-commerce or retailers where in 2010 retailers were still picking up. Their e-commerce sales was pretty down and they were mostly still in store. So, for North Face the problem was that, “Why I’m selling in-store? What is driving my in-store sales?” And that was the open question they answer.
Andrew: And by the way, Shilpi, I’ll tell you that sometimes I go mental and I say, “Guys, we don’t know where our customers are coming from. We don’t know where our traffic is coming from. Let’s tag everything.” Or Michael, our developer will say, “I’m going to UTM everything and I’m going to teach everybody how to tag.” And we think that’s going to solve it, but in reality, it doesn’t. It doesn’t unless someone takes every step exactly right. If they type it into a different computer, you’re gone, like type in the website. Or how about this? If they just buy and they use their purchasing email address as opposed to the email newsletter email address, there’s no connection. And so as much as we think we are going to go out of our way, tag everything and use your unique URLs, we’re kidding ourselves. We don’t get all of the sales and all of the tracking that way. So, what did he do for North Face that he thought, “We can turn this into a business on its own”? What was he doing?
Shilpi: So, actually, what we did it was our professor of research at UC Davis who is one of our advisors as well, Professor Naik. And he wrote a research paper where he said that you don’t have to track. It’s like a missile. You launch a missile and then you just say, “Hey, missile, you have to just reach there.” You just feed in the coordinates and it just go there, right? You don’t know how many clouds are there, whether it’s raining, whether it’s thunderstorm. It just somehow reaches to the tracking point, right? So, there is a science behind that, and in math, it’s called Kalman filtering. So, he . . .
Andrew: Kalman filtering?
Shilpi: Kalman filtering. Yes.
Shilpi: The Kalman is a mathematician who started this whole algorithm. And our whole company is pretty much based on Kalman filtering.
Andrew: Okay. I see. K-A-L-M-A-N filtering.
Andrew: Okay. And so . . .
Shilpi: It was a research by one of our professors and we just took that . . . We started where he stopped. We took that research and we just since then we have just branched off and we have figured it out how to do it. So, none of us, like me or my co-founder, we are not experts in marketing as such. We never did marketing before. Harpreet in fact has done a tech part of marketing where he built marketing platforms like campaign publishing, campaign management, things like that. But doing analytics for marketing, that was the first time when we were doing.
Andrew: So, is there a way for you to explain that almost to a child to understand how you are doing this, how Kalman filtering allowed you to figure out which ads were leading to which sales?
Shilpi: Good question. So, basically, I will compare two things. It’s not that it’s a new problem to solve. There are people who are trying to solve this problem. And traditionally, all the vendors, all the big ones, including Nielsen who is our main competitor in the market, they use statistics. And they use statistics and that is pure regression, which is basically you try to see this is our sales which is an output. This is what I did. So, I did a TV ad, I got a celebrity, I posted a board, I did so many things. Can you figure out a relation and then tell me what’s going on here?
And most of the traditional vendors what they were doing they were taking three years’ worth of data and they’re somehow trying to fit it into the equation because if you take a little bit of data and try to fit into the equation, it’ll be very hard, because one year has only 12 points which is monthly data, right?
So, with Kalman filtering what happens, you can actually be break months into weeks, and you take one week worth of data and predict the next week. And then when you get here, then you learn from what’s happened in the one week and then predict another week. So, the minute you basically take a baby step and you start predicting week by week, and that’s how you get to the better precision, and you can actually even work with lesser amount of data. So, you don’t need so much data, you need smaller amounts of data and your possessions are much final. So, you can get to this attribution problem in a different way, and because it works more in a statistical machine learning aspect, you don’t need to track everything. You can just get all the signals and then let it filter out what works.
Shilpi: I know. It wasn’t like a . . .
Andrew: I still . . . Yeah. I feel like even though the five-year-old brain in me still doesn’t understand it, but I can accept it. It’s not something that I’ll get fully right now. Let’s understand then how you got your first customer and got to implement this idea, which was . . . How did you get the first customer?
Shilpi: So, our first customer was like the paid customer and it was unpaid customer because . . .
Andrew: Let’s talk about the unpaid customer. How did you get them?
Shilpi: North Face.
Andrew: Oh, you went back to his company and you said, “Look, he’s doing this already for you. We’re starting a company that can do this using this new technology. Hire us or have us do it.” They said, “Sure.” You did it. Okay. How did that go?
Shilpi: Because, Andrew, it’s very hard to build enterprise software, right? If you don’t have the real data, you can’t build it in the lab. You need the real data. And for that, you have to have a partner who’s ready to share the data, but then they’re going to say, “Hey, I’m giving you data, so I can’t pay you.” And we were anyway building our algorithms, so we did it for free for them.
Shilpi: But we built our algorithms.
Andrew: Using what you did for them, you figured out how to create your algorithm using real data. Were they happy with the work?
Shilpi: Yeah, they did. I will say that they didn’t sign up. They didn’t sign up. They didn’t convert into a paid customer, but . . .
Andrew: Why not?
Shilpi: So, just analytics doesn’t solve all the problems. Organizational problems are very difficult to solve. The problem is this. Once you start measuring, there are a lot of peoples and marketing department, they have to start taking actions on the recommendations. And if they are not ready . . . I’m not saying that North Face wasn’t, but it’s just the whole recommendation and the agility. It didn’t pan out that point in time. And then we moved on and we actually got our first paid customer to RFP. So, when we were . . .
Andrew: Request for Proposal. It was a company that said, “We want somebody to solve this. Who can solve it?” How did you even see the RFP, the Request for Proposal?
Shilpi: Yeah. Generally RFPs are not open, right? Even for a startup, it’s a difficult one. So, one of our . . . Harpreet’s connection, my co-founder, he used to work with Sapient who is now part of Publicis, and that guy wasn’t in Kimberly Clark heading the . . . He was the first Chief Marketing Technology Officer as [inaudible 00:17:12] Mayur, I think. Mayur something. Yeah. So, he said, “Hey, we are trying to solve this problem. It looks like you’re solving this similar problem. I’ll send you the RFP.” And then we got in and we got to present. They said, “Okay. We’ll give you one brand. If you could show us in one month how to do it.” And they were . . . You won’t believe, the top three competitors were in that pitch in the event. So, they gave us one brand and they . . .
Andrew: What was the brand?
Shilpi: Visual IQ, which is now acquired by Nielsen. Another one was I think got acquired again, InsightsExpress.
Andrew: Wait. So, I’m looking at Visual IQ. The first thing that comes up is the title of their page is “The Leading Marketing Attribution Solutions Provider.” So they do what you do. And there was . . .
Andrew: So, they were outsourcing it to you to do the work that they do.
Shilpi: No, no, no, no. Visual IQ was our competitor and they were in the pitch.
Andrew: Got it. No. So, which is a brand that you got hired to take on?
Shilpi: Kimberly Clark.
Andrew: Kimberly Clark. Which one?
Andrew: Huggies. So, they said, “Okay. Take Huggies and go do it.” And then your competitors got other brands. Which brands did they get?
Shilpi: No. We actually did not get Huggies because Huggies was their biggest brand and we were the brand new company. They said . . .
Andrew: Okay. So, which brand did you get?
Shilpi: Newer smaller companies we will give you. I think we got Kotex. We got Kotex.
Shilpi: So, we got that and Visual IQ got bigger brands and Nielsen got bigger brands. And after five months pilot, we were able to give all the recommendation while they were still [inaudible 00:18:48] because they had to tag every single thing.
Andrew: And you weren’t tagging, you were just . . . Got it.
Shilpi: No, we don’t tag.
Andrew: And the tagging . . .
Shilpi: We don’t need tagging. So, that is the fundamental difference, Andrew, in this approach that you don’t have to tag because the way the math is working you don’t have to track. You can still make sense of the data without tracking. So, we wanted to . . . We knew that down the line cookies are going to crumble, browsers are going to be blocking things, ads will be blocked. So, just saying that tracking everything is not fundamentally good solution for any approach if you’re trying to build a software. So, we kept it probabilistic from the very beginning.
Andrew: Wow. I got it now. And I wasn’t thinking that in the future cookies will crumble like you say, but we see Apple is trying to beat back cookies and as much as possible. And once they do it, it’s harder for others to say, “Well, we’re going to make it easy for you to be tracked and still get market share.”
All right. Let me talk about my first sponsor and then we’ll continue with the story. My first sponsor is a company called ActiveCampaign. Actually, Shilpi, they do the opposite mentality of you. They say, “We’re going to give you email marketing software and we’ll allow you to track everything via tags, via clicks.” Now, there’s an understanding that when somebody sees an email and they go on to their . . . they see it on their phone, they type into their computer at work, your website and they buy, even ActiveCampaign can’t track it.
But the thing that I like about ActiveCampaign is they do email marketing where, Shilpi, someone opens up an email, you know it. They’re tagged just having open it. They click a link, you know it. They’re tagged just having clicked the link. If they click five different links and five different email and they seem like they’re good customers because you’ve got a couple of other things going for you like which blog posts they read, what pages on your site they were on, which videos they saw at the end. All that goes into ActiveCampaign.
All we as marketers have to do as customers of ActiveCampaign have to do is put one piece of code on our site, and then it starts to feed all that data in. Well, at that point, we can say, well, anyone who’s seen five . . . who’s clicked on five different emails from us in the last week and seen one of our videos all the way to the end, we want to trigger an email that goes out to them that says, “Get on a call with me.”
Or maybe we start to see that we have five different types of people who are buying from us who are clicking on our site, we send the same email to everybody, but based on each category, we change a line of text so it could be, “This software is fantastic for consultants,” for people who’ve been on the consulting part of our page. “This software is great for new companies,” for people who’ve been on the new company part of our page. We tag them and then the software customizes for them. Does that makes sense?
Shilpi: So, don’t get me wrong. I don’t hate tagging. So, if the tagging is there and client has invested money in it, absolutely, we’ll take the data. And your outcome is better. But we . . .
Andrew: The outcomes are better with it, but we know that we can always get it.
Shilpi: Yeah, because I’m a software assuming that what if you’re just starting your journey? What if in your industry it’s just not possible to tag? What if a privacy compliance like GDPR started popping up, right? You don’t know what’s going to happen, so you cannot design your software based on that, “I have to track everything.”
Shilpi: That is the premise we started with.
Andrew: All right. For ActiveCampaign, for anyone who wants to go sign up, you can try it for free right now, try it for free by going to activecampaign.com/mixergy. If you decide to sign up for them, they will give you your second month for free. They will also do two free one-on-one sessions so you can strategize, get deep personal help from one of their real platform consultants. And then finally, if you’re with a different email provider, they will do free migration for you.
All you have to do is with so many people who have listened to me have done which is go to activecampaign.com/mixergy. Even if you decided not to sign up, I really urge you to go on that side, scroll to the bottom where you see site and event tracking. It’ll show you the mindset you need when you’re organizing your sales. And then scroll a little bit further and you’re going to see that one image that shows you how actively automating your CRM, your Contact Relationship . . . What is that called CRM? Your software that has a list of . . . What does CRM stands for? Let me see. CRM stand for . . .
Shilpi: Customer Relationship Management.
Andrew: Wow. There you go. Customer Relationship Management. It will show you what your CRM could do if it’s with ActiveCampaign. Wow, that’s impressive. So, you got that within a couple of months. How long did it take you before you can show them that you could do better with Kotex than your competitors could do with bigger brands?
Shilpi: Three months.
Andrew: Three months? And then did you go after more their brands or what did you do next?
Shilpi: Yes. Yes.
Andrew: You did.
Shilpi: [inaudible 00:23:11] brands. We then got into different countries. And then something interesting happened. So, we actually lost them after three years because there was a huge infrastructure like the org structure change happened and it was a middle layer of analytics which they completely cut it off from U.S., and then they put that org structure distributed across different countries wherever the growth was, which was a smart move because it totally makes sense. You don’t . . . Till the time brands were growing in the U.S. it totally makes sense to run that analytics from U.S., but the minute now brands are growing in emerging markets, that analytic needs to sit in that particular country. So, then we had to restart the whole relationship because our relationship was in U.S.
Andrew: And did it help that you actually had your results with them?
Shilpi: Yeah, absolutely.
Andrew: It did. So, you went back and you got them back as customers.
Shilpi: Yes, we did.
Andrew: For which brands?
Shilpi: It was a completely new sale for us.
Shilpi: Like, we have to go and show and then do pilot and do it again.
Andrew: Which brands were you able to get?
Shilpi: We got Huggies across APAC.
Andrew: Got it. And I see Huggies up on your site right now. By the way, I’ve been looking up Prasad Naik. He is the professor who did this research that you’re basing your company on?
Shilpi: Mm-hmm. Yeah. So, he has been the source of inspiration that you can track marketing without cookies. So, that’s where the whole inspiration came. And I’m not the AI person in my company. Harpreet is the one, the brain behind AI and [inaudible 00:24:51] product person like productizing it and making sure the company runs. But he literally did like mini-PhD in six months to get this whole work.
Andrew: You mean your co-founder did?
Shilpi: Yes, he did.
Andrew: And Professor Naik has been . . . That’s basic . . . That’s what he does. It’s not like teaching as a thing he does on the side. He has been a professor at UC Davis for 23 years now teaching marketing. So, he came up with the research, you said, “We’re going to build this business based on your research. Will you be an advisor?” He said, “Yes.”
Shilpi: Yes. Yes.
Andrew: All right. How did you get more customers?
Shilpi: So, most of our customers are word of mouth. Like I told you, if you go to SimilarWeb, you will see zero page site.
Andrew: Let me go to Similar . . . I’m going to go to Similar . . . Well, you know what? A site your . . . A company your size is not going to have a big SimilarWeb track footprint.
Shilpi: Yeah. Most of our search is like the direct . . . Everybody is searching directly for us. It’s word of mouth. And in marketing people move around a lot. So, if you build . . . It matters who your initial customers are. And we just initially when we started the company, we made sure that we go to big brands, we solve bigger problems, and we build the relationships so that when people moved on, wherever they went, they just asked for us. So, they took us . . .
Andrew: What did you do to keep that relationship going?
Shilpi: I think you have to go a little bit above and beyond. So, it can be just that you’re selling the product or once it is sold you’re just delivering on what is the statement of work. But like, for example, one of the VPs from Kimberly Clark moved to Coca Cola, and he wanted to pitch to Coca Cola that what [agile 00:26:34] marketing can do. So, we built slides for him. We build things that he could show the vision. So, sometimes it’s investment you would have to make in your client, and we had no idea whether we will get a project or not. And that’s not the reason we got the project because he was like, “I’m going to be hands-off. I can introduce you, but after that, it’s your job to figure it out, to navigate.” And every time what we have seen that if we support our clients to show the vision within their organization, they trust you little bit better, because if you’re there just for money, they won’t like you.
Andrew: So, what’s happening is they have this vision that they want more data, that they want more insight, but they have to go and convince somebody that this makes sense and they say, “You know what? Shilpi you go convince them that this makes sense. You create the slides. You create the argument. I will take it over to them. I just need help to convince anyone of my company that this makes sense.” That’s the way it works.
Shilpi: Yeah. Sometimes you just become their third party research company, giving thought leadership, telling them, you know, what is leaders and readers and why it works for your company, why it doesn’t work for other company . . .
Andrew: You’re just doing the work just for them to persuade their people internally that this kind of data matters, and then hopefully they’ll hire you.
Shilpi: Hopefully, yes.
Andrew: Hopefully. And that’s what you do. I was thinking you would do even more. I know you’re the CEO of the company, right? So, I thought maybe part of what you do was send out email, send out notes, give out gifts, do stuff like that, make phone calls, checking in. You don’t do that.
Shilpi: No, we don’t.
Andrew: It’s not a schmooze business.
Shilpi: No, not at all. At least not . . . At least we didn’t decide to be that one so far. And we know that we miss out sometimes. If we . . . Like, there are certain clients who love to have that kind of a relationship, but we just can’t afford it because we are organically growing company and we have to spend . . . We would rather invest time in a relationship by just supporting them with thought leadership rather than just schmoozing people.
Andrew: So, what are some of the things that they ask you to help have thought leadership? They want you to help support their thought leadership, right?
Shilpi: A lot of time even thought leadership comes from us because we do talk about a lot of things that a lot of competitors don’t because there are limitations in technology what they are trying to sell. So, a lot of times thought leadership is just what we are doing, but there might be a vision a client might have that, “Hey, I want to make sure I have millions of conversations. I just don’t know what am I supposed to do.” So, we get problem statement like that and that’s what we build product a year down the line. So, we didn’t build that product just because we wanted to because one of our clients said, “I have social media monitoring tool and I’m getting these 6 million conversations every day across the world. What do I do with it? Can I learn a little bit better about my trends, my category, my . . . What’s going on with my consumers?”
Shilpi: Take it.
Andrew: And they’re asking . . . And that’s what you end up creating.
Shilpi: Yeah. So, we create the concepts first. We give them nice slides, we tell them, “You can do this. You can do that. You can take data from here. And then you can apply Kvantum technology to do this.” Sometimes we might not even have models for it, but we just . . . It’s more like a research, thought leadership kind of fees and the minute they see something they want to see, “Okay. Can you do it?” And then we can take the test data and try to show them that we can do it or not.
Andrew: All right. Let me talk about my second sponsor and then get back in. What I’d like to hear is some of the big challenges. So far it feels like this has been a little easy and simple. And I know it hasn’t been based of course on your smile. Let’s take a moment to talk about my second sponsor. It’s a company called HostGator. If you’re out there creating websites, you need a hosting solution that’s so easy that you can get started with it right away that is robust enough that you can grow. And if you hate the hosting company, you can switch away if you want to.
A lot of these new web builders, you can’t leave them. You’re signed up, you’re stuck with them for life. With HostGator, you can have one click install of WordPress, Magenta, to all these different platforms, you’re probably going to pick HostGator. You’re probably going to pick WordPress to host your site with them.
And once you do, it’s easy to get started, find a theme, build your company. If you don’t like HostGator, just take your site and move it over to a competitor. But I think you’re going to like them because they’re inexpensive, they just work, and when you’re ready to grow, if you want more to grow, they will grow with you. They have got a lot of other plans beyond the simple inexpensive ones that I urge you to start with. And the inexpensive ones that I urge you to start with are available at hostgator.com/mixergy, hostgator.com/mixergy. When you do it, you’ll get a great website, quick, easy, the least expensive price that they offer anywhere, and you’ll be supporting my work here at Mixergy. It’s hostgator.com/mixergy.
What’s the big challenge? What is the biggest one that you have had?
Shilpi: Right now I absolutely want to scale faster than what we are scaling right now.
Andrew: Meaning hiring more.
Shilpi: No. I think getting more revenue. That’s where the challenge is. And it’s because it’s me and my co-founder we are the only sales team we have. We don’t have a sales team so far.
Andrew: What about Joe Dinunzio? He doesn’t do that? He’s just an advisor?
Shilpi: Yeah. They are . . .
Andrew: You got a team of advisors. And who’s on the sale? How many . . . Well, who else is in the company beyond this team of advisors?
Shilpi: So, we have a total of 22 people. Four in India and 18 in . . . Eighteen in Indian and four here in U.S.
Andrew: And so you need more salespeople or more what? What do you need to do to grow?
Shilpi: So, we have figured out product-market fit long time ago for our first product and now for our second product. What we need is we have a sales playbook. We understand how to navigate the whole ecosystem when we get to the client and especially large enterprises. And what is the price point that works? And what is the existing vendors? What is the competition where we are good, where they are good?
We totally understand the market. It’s just we have to show up and knock at more doors and we don’t have enough bodies to go knock on doors because we can be salespeople but we are not 100% salespeople because I have to run the company, I have to make sure that everybody . . . is the culture is right, everybody is being groomed, everybody is building the right product. So, there’s this a lot of internal focus that I have to put in time on. And the same goes with Harpreet. He has to make sure that the technology works. So, we are kind of part internal and part external focus, and that’s where the challenge is.
Andrew: What do you do about culture considering that it’s a team of people in two different countries, two different time zones, and it’s fairly small, though? What do you do?
Shilpi: And it is heavily distributed. We are across seven different locations.
Andrew: I didn’t realize that. Okay. Are you working from home?
Shilpi: I work from home. Basically, I think there are 7 people who work from home and there are 11 who goes to office. So, we have office in [inaudible 00:33:46]. And actually when I dropped by in the morning we were talking on WeWork. So, I proud to say that we work at WeWork. I love WeWork, actually. And especially in India. Finding that quality and that consistent experience that you get in U.S. when you go to India and you get exactly the same experience, hard to beat that. So, I love it. WeWork . . . Most of our employees they work out of WeWork in India if they’re not working at home.
Andrew: I use that. I said it, I use Regus. I think there are benefits to both. One of the things that I love about it is whatever country I’m in, I just go find a Regus and they make me feel like home, the connection to the Wi-Fi works instantly, I’ve got space to work, and it’s everything the way that I’m used to so that I don’t have to get distracted. I could just go right into work.
Andrew: Yeah. I love that.
Shilpi: Same with WeWork too. So, we can use the same card anywhere in the world now. Yeah.
Andrew: Yeah. I think that’s . . . The nice thing about WeWork is I didn’t realize you guys have a card, so you can just use a card to get in any time. Here every building has its own card, unfortunately, for Regus, so if it’s after-hours I can’t get in, but any other time I can. And there’s a huge advantage to it. I think a lot of people who work out of coffee shops and their home, I think they missed that distance from their home that lets you say, “This is where I work,” and having everything be ready for you.
And people who work at a coffee shops, I think are a times too distracted by little things like the internet is not really working, the office or the desk space isn’t what you expected, you have to buy a lot of food. When you go into a co-working space, you know exactly what to expect, you get to sit down, go to work, the internet is great. And if it’s not great, it’s somebody else’s problem, they better solve it fast. And usually if they can’t solve it, they’ll go find another office that’s just down the road.
Shilpi: No. I like WeWork because WeWork wasn’t there in India when we started our company. And you won’t believe, I took a bare shell office, designed it myself.
Shilpi: Because initially we had 32 people. When we got funding, obviously, we had to spend the money. So, we got a bare shell office, designed it, and obviously then we had to let people go when we had to return half of the money to our investor. So, it was one of the toughest decision we had to take. Who would we let go? And then we had to make sure that everybody finds a job, finds a home.
Andrew: You work to that? You worked on that too?
Shilpi: Yeah, we did.
Andrew: How did you find people jobs?
Shilpi: So, we . . . Through our network.
Andrew: You just started reaching out to people saying, “Do you need an engineer who does this?” Really?
Shilpi: Yeah. All the founders I know and it just happened to be that everyone in my network is a founder and everyone has an office in Indian, so like, “Do you need trained data scientists?” “Absolutely.” Everybody would like just [inaudible 00:36:24].
Andrew: Yeah. It is a good market for it and it’s a great skill to hire for. All right. And so scaling it up, you were talking about the culture. What do you do now that the team is so diverse that people working in different WeWork places, working from their home? How do you create a culture?
Shilpi: It’s very hard. It’s very, very hard to build culture. And just being a first-time founder, even I’m learning how to create culture because as an employee you always get inducted to a culture whichever company you go. And fortunately, unfortunately, I always work at big company, so everything was so nicely done. Pricewaterhouse . . .
Andrew: Like what? What did PricewaterhouseCoopers do? What did PwC do about culture?
Shilpi: I loved how they onboard employees.
Andrew: How? What can we learn from them? Yeah.
Shilpi: They are amazing. They have figured it out so nicely. Like, first . . . So, I don’t know whether they do it anymore, but because we were MBA hires there was like a one-week training in Atlanta. They teach you every single thing; how to edit Excel sheet, how to print it, how to present it in front of clients, what . . .
Andrew: In the way that they do it. Right. How to . . . Yeah.
Shilpi: They literally kind of mold you in their culture in the first one week, and they also tell you what is right, what is wrong as per their culture. So, you literally kind of . . . It’s literally robotic, but at the same time you learn things what you need to be successful on your job day one. And that I felt that in a startup it’s very hard for me to figure out what should be the onboarding process. And being a founder, and that to me was sitting in U.S. while a team is being hired in India in different time zone, I cannot be there all the time, I cannot talk to them. A lot of time I hired and fired people and I’ve never met them.
Shilpi: So, it is unfortunate for me, but at the same time it took me a really long time to figure out how to really introduce them to the right thing.
Andrew: What is your onboarding process?
Shilpi: So, our onboarding process is, like, 50% is more about company and 50% is about the team they’re getting into.
Shilpi: So, I have made sure that in terms of what is our core values when it comes to, you know, being respectful, you know, being planned, I think being planned and communicating well is the fundamental of . . .
Andrew: So, how do you communicate to them that they need to be respectful and be planned?
Shilpi: So, I have put together trainings and I have put together a few, like, PowerPoints where I’m giving examples. Sometimes . . .
Andrew: And you walk them through personally?
Shilpi: No. I initially did. And I do it at a certain level if somebody is a manager.
Andrew: Okay. And now . . .
Shilpi: [inaudible 00:39:17] will do it. But if somebody is just joining as an intern or just a first-year into the job, then I make sure that the team lead does it.
Andrew: So, a human being will go through it with them.
Andrew: Got it. So, you know what? I was just talking to the founder of Trainual. They have software that does it where the person who gets hired can go through and watch the videos and learn, but that’s not your style. You want another person to walk them through, and if it’s PowerPoint, you don’t want the new hire to read and watch the PowerPoint themselves. You want someone else on the team to go through the PowerPoint presentation, make sure they understand it and teach it to them. Yeah, I see your face as you’re nodding. Yes.
Shilpi: Yeah. So, the thing is this that my team 60% of our team is 22 to 25. Well, they are millennials and they love engagement, even though they hate . . . Obviously, they don’t like to be babysit. And I want someone to be asking question and I don’t want that they just . . . Because I know I have done those software trainings in Pricewaterhouse and I don’t think I’ve ever paid attention. So, I want to make sure at least for the onboarding part, future is fine, but in the onboarding part, I want to make sure that they actually have someone to talk to and somebody who can really impart that education. And whenever there is a new process get introduced, I make sure that I do a call and I walk everybody through why we are doing the process and how it is going to help them and the company.
Andrew: That is so much work and so much time.
Shilpi: It is. It is.
Andrew: And in addition to it, you also have to sell.
Shilpi: But I think it’s worth it because otherwise you will have to teach those people again and again.
Andrew: Yeah. And you have to probably teach them again and again, anyway. I know that little things for us, like, one of the things that I understand about PricewaterhouseCoopers’ onboarding and the way that they work is that they want things organized in a certain way. So, I thought we do too. Like, before if you create a Google Doc with an email that you’ve written, I want the word “email” to be the first thing in the title of a doc. It’s great, it works, and then eventually people will switch it to “emails” plural for some reason, and then it just sticks, and you have to come back and say, “Actually, the way we do it is this way.”
And that’s a simple example. It extends beyond that to the way that we prep guests, the way that we follow up with guests and so on. Things start to shift off-course a lot and we have to catch it and then come back and say, “Well, was this an intentional decision because you found a better way or did you just start to shift and not pay attention to the fact that you’re changing?”
Shilpi: I think, Andrew, what happens, I don’t know, maybe I don’t know about others, but as a first time founder, initially, you actually want to groom and coach everyone. What I realized after some point in time that I need to pick my people and I have to figure out, “Who is groomable and coachable?” And I then started investing my energy to those people. And then I ask them, “Can you do the same for me and go coach everybody else?” So, that’s what we do.
Andrew: And then the value of them coaching other people is that then you have them reaffirming it in themselves and now they own it and it’s less of your time going into it.
Andrew: All right. By the way, I’ve got to close this out with this. This whole day of live interviews that I’m doing right now is because I was fascinated by YEC. I mentioned to the founder of YEC there are people who have YEC in their LinkedIn profile. Like, I bought a Mac. Mac is not on my LinkedIn profile, right? So, you bought into YEC and it’s in your LinkedIn profile. Why do you do that? Why do you put it in your LinkedIn profile? And obviously, you’re not the only one. I don’t mean to pick on you. I’m just saying there are a bunch of people. I want to understand how they got to that point. Why do you do that?
Shilpi: I think one way is having YEC, that is the easiest way to connect other YEC members if you have YEC on your profile because then you automatically can reach out and say, “Hey, we both are on YEC.” If you’re not . . . If you don’t have it on your profile, it’s very hard to figure out because there are just . . . I think there are thousands of people in YEC. I just love the community.
Andrew: But wouldn’t they just connect you with their community app, with their people?
Shilpi: No. No, no, no. So, LinkedIn and Facebook . . . LinkedIn is completely different. So, there’s no automatic LinkedIn connection. You don’t know who are . . .
Andrew: So, what you’re looking to do is if you’re trying to find someone, you would want to find someone in a specific role, and if they happen to be in YEC, it helps you, and if you happen to be looking for someone in a role and filter that role to YEC members, now you found the role that you’re looking for, the person who does it, and the fact that you’re a YEC member it gives you a point of interest to connect with them.
Shilpi: Absolutely, absolutely. And I found a lot of partners through YEC just like that. We . . . Getting recommendation from YEC is like getting mentorship. So, everybody is there out there just sharing their knowledge, their experience. So, you post a question. And we use Facebook a lot. We have a Facebook group.
Shilpi: So, whenever I have tough decision and I have no idea, I’m like, “Okay. Let me just post that on my YEC.” And I get responses like as many as 40 in within a few hours.
Andrew: What’s a question that you would post to the YEC community and get a response for?
Shilpi: Anything. Like, for example, I was asking, like, I want to do press release because we just got two award for that consumer insights product, so I wanted to go . . . Where should I go do it? Is it even worth it? Have people done it? How did they leverage their awards? And you get tons of tons of information. So, I ask those kinds of questions.
Andrew: Got it. Got it. I see. And then . . . So, there are different ways to do this. I see how you use them. I think the fact that you’re putting it on LinkedIn is kind of interesting. Did they actually ask you to put it on LinkedIn or do you just . . .
Shilpi: No. No.
Andrew: People just naturally do it.
Andrew: You know what? It is such a good group of people that I fully underestimated when it was getting going. I just didn’t think that it was going to be what it ended up being and it’s grown to be a fantastic group of people.
Shilpi: It is. It is.
Andrew: All right. And the ones who made this interview happen and this whole day of interviews happen, we will of course be putting this in the podcast, so if you’re listening live and you want to know whether that you’ll get a recording, yes, it’s going to be in the podcast. And the majority of people will be watching in the podcast and so they will not know how to find your website. So, what I’m going to do is spell it out. It’s . . . Actually, I don’t even need to spell it out. It’s always in our show notes in the podcast, and if it’s not, let me know and we’ll put it in, but here I go, K-V-A-N-T-U-M, Kvantum. That is quantum in Hungarian you said, right?
Andrew: So, kvantum.ai. I want to thank the two sponsors who made this interview happen. The first, if you’re looking to host a website, go to hostgator.com/mixergy. I noticed kvantum.ai is actually on WordPress like so many other sites, right? Brilliant work and you keep it simple by just hosting on WordPress.
Andrew: So, there you go. If you want WordPress, go to HostGator, they’ll make it simple and inexpensive. And the second sponsor is the company that will do your email marketing right, allow you to tag and send out basic email and do marketing automation beyond email. Go check out activecampaign.com/mixergy. Shilpi, thanks so much for being here.
Shilpi: Thank you, Andrew. Thank you so much. You have a . . .
Andrew: Thanks. Thank you all for listening. Bye, everyone.