Andrew: Hey, everyone. My name is Andrew Warner. I’m the founder of Mixergy.com. It’s the place where I interview entrepreneurs for an audience of entrepreneurs.
The goal here is, of course, that you’ll listen to these interviews, the ideas, the stories will be embedded in your head and without you actually even having to take notes, the way these entrepreneurs think will penetrate your thought process and you’ll start to think more like them.
And if you’ve been listening for any period of time now, you’ve noticed that many of the people who I’ve been interviewing are people who were listening to these interviews and that’s my goal. I want everybody who’s listening to them to learn from them, build a company and then come back here and do an interview and teach others what you’ve learned along the way.
Now, what you’ll notice as you look at out the entrepreneurial landscape and the business landscape is that most people don’t even notice changes as they happen. It’s not until years later that they realize that there’s a big shift in the market. We’ll, today’s guest noticed a big shift, one that went from email marketing to social media, to kind of sum it up in a simplified way. He saw it though as it happened. He started a business around it. Last I heard, the business was worth $1.2 billion, which makes it a unicorn.
Ragy Thomas is the founder of the company. It’s called Sprinklr. It offers a social media management system that enables global scale of the social enterprise. Ragy, how did I do? I kind of wrote it down as you said it, but I don’t think that’s the way you said it.
Ragy: Let me give you a simple way to…
Andrew: Give me one sentence that explains what Sprinklr is.
Ragy: We are the most complete social media management platform for large global companies.
Andrew: Okay. I’m going to dig into what that means and I’ll say for now that this interview is sponsored by the company that will help you hire great developers. It’s called Toptal and by the company that will host your website. It’s called HostGator.
Ragy, before we get into what that means, let’s talk about revenues. I know you’ve got high valuation, but what are the revenues? I see a big smile come on your face as I said that.
Ragy: The last public number was revealed, was picked up by the press late last year and we crossed at $100 million of recurring revenue some point in the second half of last year.
Andrew: All right. So, you guys are over that now?
Ragy: Way over that. We’re growing at a fairly healthy rate.
Andrew: You know what? What an incredible story. But I want to understand more about what the software does and how to explain it simply. I think an example will help. Give me an example of one customer of yours, even if you can’t name them and what they do with your software so we can see what you’ve built.
Ragy: Our customers are companies like Nike and McDonalds. We work with about 1,200 brands, large global brands.
Ragy: Yeah. So, if you think about–let’s think McDonalds for an example. They probably have millions of people talking about them, talking to them across 20+ social channels every day, every month. Now, some of them are directly trying to talk to McDonalds, “Hey, McDonalds, where can I go find a coupon?” or, “Hey, McDonalds, I just got out of the 34th Street store and I just loved your new McNuggets.” Some are not going to be that nice. Some could be about a problem that they had or what is traditionally customer care.
You take a large brand, large global brand. Many of our clients use us in anywhere from 20 to over 100 countries. In every country, they are listening to what people are saying about them, to them, what they are saying about their competitors.
What we allow them to do is to do marketing over these social channels. We allow them to do customer care of these social channels. We allow them to do product research, market research, competitive research, brand research across these channels. We allow them to do recruiting across these channels. We allow them to do investor research across these channels.
So, you think of all front office functions, selling across these channels–we provide an integrated platform for a large global business to talk to their customers across social channels and drive their business outcomes on these channels.
Andrew: And it’s lots of different channels, a huge number of interactions and this whole thing started with you and then you and your wife and it got really big. But before that, I mentioned that you were doing email. What were you doing in email or that you noticed that email marketing was shifting towards social? What were you doing in email?
Ragy: Prior to starting Sprinklr, I was the president of Epsilon Interactive. It’s a division of a publicly traded company called Alliance Data Systems and a part of Epsilon, which is arguably the largest database marketing company in the world. It’s a publicly traded company. So, you can look them up for information. But I got there by selling our previous startup to them in 2005. My previous startup prior to this was an email marketing company. Prior to that, my previous startup experience before that was another email marketing company.
So, I was really fortunate to be in email as email as a channel gained a lot of prominence for businesses. So, if you go back late ’95-’96, consumers started using email, we all had our AOL email addresses and we upgraded them to Yahoo and then we upgraded them to Google and what I built back then with a whole bunch of other wonderful people, the startups I’ve been involved with was building technology for businesses to use email as a way to connect with their customers.
So, we did email marketing, we did email customer care and integrated with all the transactions systems of banks and retailers, essentially allowing them to send out literally billions and billions of emails, permissions-based.
Andrew: Didn’t you guys also used to do checkboxes when someone signed up? Wasn’t Bigfoot one of the companies and Bigfoot would offer email addresses to people so I could get Andrew@Bigfoot and when I signed up to get Andrew@Bigfoot I could check a box and get email from the Gap or something, right?
Ragy: Yeah. It’s a long complicated story, but that wasn’t us. I’ll explain why.
Andrew: That’s a company that acquired and took on the name or something?
Ragy: The journey that culminated as Epsilon Interactive went through so many twists and turns. But essentially, we had acquired Bigfoot Interactive or what was left of Bigfoot Interactive during the dotcom time. We decided that the Bigfoot Interactive brand had a lot more brand equity, so we changed our name to that and kept it as Bigfoot Interactive. But the founders had pivoted from whatever they were doing before to email marketing when we had acquired those assets. That’s exactly what we were doing with a different name prior to that.
Andrew: I see.
Ragy: So it wasn’t the mailboxes, but the lineage has the same origin.
Andrew: So you noticed that as powerful as email was, there was a shift. It took me a while to notice the shift. How did you notice it?
Ragy: Sometimes you get to be in this vantage point that gives you a different perspective on the same things that a lot of people get excited about. If you shared the same view as I did, what I saw was email and prior to email, we had postal mail and we had the telephone. I was lucky to see the transformation from phone and postal mail to email and businesses reluctantly at first and with great enthusiasm later started using email as a much more cost-effective impactful way to talk to customers. That was obvious because customers were already using email to talk to each other.
As, at that time, the largest commercial technology for email, I had hit the ceiling with commercial email. Email does not have permissions, meaning I can get your email address and start spamming you. There’s no technology–we’ve gotten better–but we had to resort to legislation to stop spammers instead of employing technology. Email back then did not have good support for videos and photos. Again, technology could have solved it. Email didn’t have an expiration concept. It didn’t have private and public messaging.
So these were all ideas that I had to solve the problems I had in email marketing for businesses. So, when I looked at Twitter and I looked at Facebook, when I looked at LinkedIn, when I looked at YouTube and Flickr and SlideShare, I basically saw the challenges I had in email, commercial, high-volume email, get solved.
So, it was obvious to me that social networking was basically an evolved way to communicate with each other electronically and the quick widespread success of the social platforms almost guaranteed that businesses were going to embrace it and will have to embrace it.
Andrew: So, you knew that just as companies were using email to send out marketing messages that resulted often in direct sales, you knew that twitter would eventually facilitate it and Facebook and all the other networks, or some of them, in a way?
Ragy: Yeah. I knew that social networks would pay pivotal roles in brands and customers and consumers connecting with each other, whether it’s for marketing or for customer care or for a host of other front office functions. That was something that I was 100% certain about, which is why I did what a lot of people would consider to be a very risky move and went back to startup mode.
Andrew: Did you code up the first version yourself?
Ragy: No. I actually tried a thing where I actually wrote code, but my developers wouldn’t let me because I hadn’t coded in a while. But I actually probably design screens and I’m very, very hands on with every aspect of our product.
Andrew: What was the first version supposed to do?
Ragy: For Sprinklr, the first version was a generic social media management system. So, it allowed brands to publish to multiple Twitter and Facebook accounts.
Andrew: That was it, basically what Buffer does now but without the timer even in it.
Ragy: It was actually more sophisticated than that.
Andrew: What else did it do?
Ragy: Publishing. It was responding. It was CRM, which the context and the audience side of it, it had a content management and it had a planner, a publishing planner.
Andrew: I see. When you say CRM, that’s the part that I don’t see. I see the content management platform, the CMS.
Ragy: Yeah. You see the CMS, but what’s not obvious is if you say something about any one of my clients, it’s important for them to know it. It’s important for them to remember it the next time you say something. I want you to start thinking of a social channel almost like a call center channel or like an email channel. You can’t be calling into a customer care call center with a problem and calling back a week later and not have the company know about your first call, right? They go through the call center system.
So that level of customer relationship data capturing needs to happen in social because the brand needs the context because many of my clients have hundreds if not thousands of people responding to these social conversations and they need continuity and they need continuity of context across channels.
So we need a CRM, but not in a way that you would imagine like name and last name and where they live and income and all that, but in an unstructured context–what did you say? Did you post a video? Was the logo in one of the pictures you posted? We need all that. Did you talk about a competitor? Did you say something that revealed a propensity for you to buy something or be dissatisfied with something? They need to be captured and contextualized against real human beings.
Andrew: I see. As you were doing this, were you getting your first client or did it come before or after?
Ragy: So I literally–you know, there is a fairytale version of my starting the company. The fairytale version is spare bedroom, no money, brute forcing it, funding it myself. They’re all true. But in reality, I was running the world’s largest email marketing company with 23 offices around the world and had seen the journey from zero to getting there.
So what I decided to do, there were a lot of learnings in my first three entrepreneurial ventures, one of which was the absolute pain in trying to change the tire while the car is running at 60 miles an hour, which basically is you get a lot of clients and then it’s not easy for you to be nimble.
So one of my takeaways of my previous three iterations was you’ve got to get the fundamental design and architecture right. So a promise I made to myself is I won’t get caught up in trying to acquire clients and grow revenue until I have a stable foundation that I’m happy with and I applied all the learnings I had in my previous life, four times re-architecting our previous platform four times, that became version one of Sprinklr. But I basically said, “I’m funding this with my money. I’m doing that because I get to choose how I want to grow.”
So I kept working on the architecture and the core just taking on clients. We had no sales whatsoever. You bought from me. You literally bought from me. You called me up or I called you. We talked and you signed a contract. Doing that for enterprise companies is very hard. In fact, in the early days, we didn’t have customer success. So, we were building the product and I did have some big name clients, but I almost want to think of it as them co-building the product with me.
Andrew: All right. I want to dig into this co-building process and also how you got those first customers. First, quickly I should tell people about a company called Toptal. It’s an incredible company for hiring and the reason is–do you know much about Toptal, by the way, Ragy?
Ragy: I don’t.
Andrew: You don’t. Okay. I will tell you. They’re a network of developers–that’s how they started–network of developers that they tested, that they made sure were solid people and now when you want to hire a developer, you go to them, you tell them what you’re looking for, they reach out to their network and they find the right person–an iOS developer, an Android developer, etc. and they find someone who works the way that you work.
So maybe you work crazy hours, maybe you work using certain chat programs to chat, like Skype or Slack. They make sure they get the right person, the right temperament. How do you guys hire your developers? I’ll come back to the ad in a moment.
Ragy: Yeah. So two strategies or three–we have acquired ten companies along the way. One of the primary drivers of acquisitions for us is talent and expertise. So that’s one. There was a period where we added 700 people at Spirnklr and there was no way we could organically hire all of them. The second one is we go after named talent at named companies that we mark. So it’s pure fishing. We have a name and we just chase them, target them.
Andrew: Chase the individual?
Ragy: Individual. For us, the story of Sprinklr is littered with many of these very targeted, never give up, which is one of our values, approaches. And the third and actually the most popular one is now we go to top schools and we recruit and we sometimes get them as interns. We train them for months and months and we have this talent pool which is evolving.
Andrew: Wow. That’s insane. That’s the way you have to be when you want to hire really good people because essentially companies are made of people. For anyone who doesn’t have a team that can do that, who doesn’t have the ability to spend that much time and wants a really good developer anyway, there is Toptal.
The beauty of Toptal is they’ve gone through that process. They’ve hired and organized the best people in their network. They haven’t hired them. They get the best people in their network. When you’re ready to hire them, there’s a matcher who will introduce you to the right person. You can get started with them often within 48 hours.
There’s a guy in my audience named Yed who said that he wanted to build an iOS app for his company. He hired Toptal. He emailed me along the way as he did it. Then he emailed me afterwards to say, “Look, I’m now a top five paid app in the lifestyle category of the app store.” Yed Annikpo, I’m glad to hear it, Yed.
Anyone else who wants to sign up with them can go to Toptal.com/Mixergy. When you do, they’re going to give you 80 hours of Toptal developer credit when you pay for your first 80 hours and that’s in addition to a no-risk trial period of up to two weeks. I’m grateful to Toptal for sponsoring and if you have a success story, email me, let me know what you end up building with Toptal.
This building with customers, Ragy, I’m really curious about. How exactly did that work?
Ragy: First off, you can do that only when there is a looming problem that the world is not solving fast enough.
Ragy: Or your competitors are not solving fast enough. What I did was I took all the learnings from building email platforms, so I had the very good idea of what I wanted to build, but what I did was I went and found my first client, which–well, basically when I met this person, I asked her–it was one of my first clients. I don’t remember which one signed for it.
But basically I asked her, “Steph, this is incredibly complex. How are you doing all this?” And then it was just a conversation. I said, “What are some of the things that you wish our platform did for you that it currently does not?” People love that question. “What are your unsolved problems.” It was not a loaded question. There was no ask except, “Share with me what’s bothering you with this. What do you wish you had?”
Then I left her alone. Two months later, I call her up and say, “Can I ask you–you took a half an hour to tell me all the things that you needed. Can I bother you for another half an hour to take a look at something?” She goes, “Sure.” And I send her a login. She looks through and she goes, “Oh my god. No one else would ever think this way.” Then I would say, “Would you like to try it? Tell me what else you need after you use it.” So, that’s sort of the verbatim of how it happened.
Andrew: Do you remember what some of those needs were, what some of the pain that she had in her previous process was?
Ragy: Yeah. Back then, there were a bunch of companies that were getting a lot of press, but they were just good looking UI without a lot of substance and structure. So I had the sort of enterprise needs figured out from my email days. So, when I went to them, went to this company with a planner for the first time, I added this CRM component for the first time, I had a quick replying capability for the first time, the customer contacts, predefined content, a whole bunch of things that hindsight would have been very intuitive. This was in response to problems they articulated.
Andrew: Okay. That seems pretty expensive and pretty intense. How much of your own money did you put into the business before you started raising money?
Ragy: It wasn’t crazy. It was not crazy. But it was significant.
Andrew: What’s the ballpark?
Ragy: It was under $1 million.
Andrew: Under $1 million.
Andrew: And all of it to developers?
Ragy: Yeah. Back then, that was all we were doing.
Andrew: I see, just developing and you were the only one talking to customers.
Andrew: Wow. And then how did you get the first few customers? How did you get in contact with them, I should say?
Ragy: So, I had a pretty decent network from my previous life, but I did not tap into that network in my early days at all.
Ragy: Okay. There are a lot of maxims at Sprinklr. One of which is called frontload the pain.
Ragy: Okay. It actually is frontload the fucking pain, but I’m probably not allowed to say that.
Andrew: You’re allowed.
Ragy: So what we do is we solve hard problems. So I figured if I went to my connections and I got in that way, I wouldn’t get access to people and their pain points. I would not be solving and going through the journey that I needed to go to, to get the foundation right. So my approach was to track down people who experienced the pain and go solve it for them, solve it and have the platform and the company grow on its own merit to solve those problems. So that’s what we did.
Andrew: Because the ad companies that were working with you before, they didn’t experience this pain?
Ragy: No, it wasn’t the ad companies. There were social media competitors, management competitors. Many of those companies don’t exist anymore. But there was a breed of companies that were publishing to Twitter, etc. But they were very lightweight.
Andrew: No, I mean why not–it seems like why not go to the customers of your previous business. It seems like it would be a natural fit if they’re already in marketing, if they’re already understanding email and direct marketing, they should be experiencing this pain.
Ragy: Yeah. The problem is the social media team is a different team.
Andrew: I see. And you didn’t want your friends.
Andrew: You wanted the right person even if it was tougher to get.
Ragy: So, I looked at who’s the most advanced in social media. Back then it was Dell and it was Cisco. It was SAP. Look at the case studies back then, these guys were the guys getting on stage presenting. Those are the people I wanted to solve the problem for. I wanted to solve Steph’s problem and Lissandra’s problem because they were getting up there saying, “We’re doing these wonderful things and pushing the envelope.” And I’m like, “You’re the one breaking things. You’re the ones who have got the most needs. So, instead of looking for who’s available, go find the person with the problem.”
Andrew: I see.
Ragy: You kind of brute force it, right? You brute force it. If you can find the person with the biggest problem and you brute force your access to them and brute force a solution, then you’re testing the truth, right? A lot of times when people build companies, they’re afraid to test the truth. They want comfort of feedback that kind of reinforces what they want to hear.
Ragy: They shouldn’t do that. You should go to the place of truth and test your ideas and build against it.
Andrew: How did you brute force the truth?
Ragy: Asking these guys what they needed. They were working with back then the best competitors. So, if they didn’t have challenges, then I didn’t have a business. So, you go to them. You get their challenges. Then I basically had to out-execute others in getting back to them.
Andrew: I see.
Ragy: If I could impress them, they are the ones on the receiving end of our best competitor, then I have to out-hustle my competitors. So I’m like, “Let’s go [inaudible 00:27:03].” If I can’t beat them with the best customers then I don’t have a business. I shouldn’t have a business. So, Sprinklr was an all or nothing game. It still is. We go all-in. We win or we go home every single day.
Andrew: How did you brute force access to them? What’s an example of that?
Ragy: Hit them up at a conference.
Andrew: So, you’d see them get off stage at a conference. What was your process? You seem pretty systemized. What was your system for getting these people to pay attention to you at a conference?
Ragy: It’s just as old fashioned as you get. I’m a lousy networker. You should never take tips from me on networking.
Andrew: That’s why I want to hear what you did. If a lousy networker is able to do it, there must be power in your process.
Ragy: All I do is I’m a value creator. There are different types of founders. There are sales founders, marketing founders, product founders. I’m a product guy. I’m a technologist. I’m a value creator. So basically I tracked this person down and said, “Would you give me ten minutes of your time. I intend to start a company in this and I think that’s a lot of problems that need solving. Do you have any?” which is as direct as it can get.
Ragy: I don’t chit-chat. I’m not going to talk about the weather and the school she went to. A certain type of people respond to that.
Andrew: Can you be as specific as saying, “Can you tell me your problems?” or did you have to find ways to get them to tell you their problems that were indirect?
Ragy: It was as direct as, “Can you tell me the problems that you were wishing someone would solve for you?”
Andrew: I see. You said I think to our producer, “I didn’t ask them to buy anything. I only waited until I solved he problem to buy it.” Did you use purchase as a way of validating that you were right?
Ragy: Yes. But not in the way that most people think. I still don’t sell. People ask me like I go somewhere and it’s becoming less and less frequent, but I’ll meet a bigwig who will say to me, “Pitch me.” And I say, “Dude, I don’t want to pitch you. I don’t care that you’ve built a $20 billion company. I don’t want to pitch anyone in my entire life.”
So, the way I did that was I went and built it and I asked, “Would you give me a bit of your time to go look at it?” The product and the company has to win on its own right. It was very appealing. It solved a lot of her problems and it was obvious to her how it would create value to her.
Then eventually I got signatures was I said, “Listen, I don’t care how much money you pay me. I’m not. . .” I actually literally did this with multiple enterprise customers in my early days. We don’t do this anymore. I sent out enterprise MSAs, master services agreement and statements of work and license order forms. I basically said, “I don’t care what you fill in. You can name your own price. It cannot be zero.”
Ragy: The reason it cannot be zero is a) you will never respect be, b) I need to have a binding contract. So, you can put $1, but I want you to partner up with me now that you see value. Partner up with me and let’s see where we can go in three months, six months, nine months, twelve months.
Andrew: For a binding contract, you need consideration. Both sides need to offer something. But why did you want the dollar? You just wanted them to be on the hook to use your software? But they weren’t forced to actually use it once they paid the dollar. There’s another reason why you wanted it. Why did you want that?
Ragy: Yeah. I don’t know how unique it is. In the enterprise world, the master services agreement is painful. There is usually 30, 90, sometimes 180, sometimes a year’s worth of just procurement, legal work that goes into signing a master services relationship with any vendor. The kind of clients I was talking to are big, large global ass company with very mature legal contracting and procurement processes.
For me, it was a test to see whether they would go through all that because if they did that, then I had a binding relationship. They could walk away. It wasn’t money. I didn’t want money to be the reason that binds us or the reason that they didn’t do it.
Andrew: I see. But if they went through the pain, then it meant that you actually had enough value, that you created something better than your competitors.
Ragy: That’s right.
Andrew: I see. How did you get the next batch of customers? The first ones were you individually talking to people, understanding the pain they had and then creating a solution for them that won them over. What about the next batch? Where did they come from?
Ragy: It came from my first batch of customers. Once I did that, I bent over backwards and I was consumed with making my first set of clients incredibly happy.
Andrew: What’s an example of something that you did that would be shocking to most other companies?
Ragy: We released an incredible number of features. They had my cell phone number 24/7. My team worked harder than any team on planet earth. Most of these guys were extremely smart, smarter than most guys at the competitors. When you have the best talent working harder than everyone else, caring more for you than anyone else, that’s a deadly combination.
Andrew: I see.
Ragy: So you kind of overwhelm them with focus on their success. True call from a customer, there was a customer who gave us a testimonial once later and she said, “You guys obsessed about my success more than I did. It was spooking me.” So, enterprise standards got low standards. It’s an industry where high powered sales people sell the shit out of useless product that end up on the shelf.
So, this was slightly sort of a different approach and we got a whole bunch of customers for whom we created value that had a great experience and then because social was evolving quite rapidly and the group of clients I was fortunate to get associated with had a voice, their voice, which were very powerful and many of them were getting off the rooftops shouting about how happy they were.
Andrew: Where did they literally go to spread the word? I know in the consumer world, people will go to Twitter and say something and then maybe a friend will buy. But in the enterprise space, where did they go to shout it from the rooftop?
Ragy: Back then, early days of social media, there were a whole bunch of social conferences, user groups and social media. So, if you were a large company, you wanted to check with another large company in the same space on what they are using because everyone was afraid to go through a vendor contracting process and end up with the wrong solution. There weren’t too many solutions. Everyone was just thumping their chest and saying the same thing.
The buyers got connected and they still are. This is the thesis that I’m playing into at Sprinklr. It’s a connected world. You can’t bullshit your customers anymore. What you say matters a lot less than what your customers say about you. That’s what my software, my company helps large companies with to market and to sell and to care for customers and manage customer experience in a connected world.
So, I just lived that thesis. That’s how our second set of customers–what we had was we started getting inbound demands. There were finally when they put together a sales team about two and a half years later, in a marketing team and everything, they went through the list. There were 2,500 inbound requests that we had and never responded to.
Andrew: How do those requests come in?
Ragy: On the website through Twitter?
Andrew: People actually coming–I see, Twitter too.
Ragy: Yeah, to us. And then we had a Facebook page. Literally, because we wouldn’t get back to them–that was because we were resource strapped. I’ve seen Twitter comments which say, “Oh, Sprinklr is so arrogant. They won’t return my calls.” Sometimes when I do get on the phone, I’ve told customers we’re not a good fit.
They will be like, “What do you mean we’re not a good fit?” And I’d be like, “Listen, you won’t be happy six months from now.” So, I can sell you, you can buy. But for these reasons, it’s not a good fit. They would hate me then, but over the years, we’ve built so much credibility with that approach.
Andrew: All right. Second sponsor and then I want to come back and ask about this funny thing that you said to our producer. Second sponsor is a company called HostGator. If you’re hosting a website and you’re not happy with your hosting company, it’s so easy to switch, especially if it’s WordPress. If it’s WordPress, HostGator will just switch you over. You’ll get tech support. You’ll get uptime. You’ll get unlimited email addresses. You’ll get this incredible company backing your site.
You know what? Let me ask you this. Ragy, if you were like a 15-year old guy, wanted to start a business while still in school, what would that be? I want to know what extreme constraints, what you would do today.
Ragy: I’ve told this many times. I’ve in my entire life not looked for businesses to start. I’ve always seen problems that I wanted to solve. So, the truth is I have no entrepreneurial blood in my family. I’m a guy who just did my undergrad as a programmer, computer science engineer, was programming in my first job and just saw incremental problems that I wanted to solve that I had experience solving and I just took it on.
So my counsel always has been do you see a problem that you want to solve, that you’re passionate about, that you have a mix of skills and experience that makes you a better person to solve? If so, it doesn’t matter whether you’re 9 or 13 or 15 or 22 or 48–go for it. If you are sitting down going, “Let me go through my ideas, 12 ideas. Is there a 13th way I can’t start the company?” I can’t relate to you. You should never take any advice from me because I’m useless.
Andrew: But problem solving, identifying problems and then solving problems, that’s your forte.
Ragy: Yeah. They just appear. I see patterns.
Andrew: Let me suggest this. There’s a guy named James Altucher who’s been saying for a long time that you should strengthened your idea muscle by getting a pad and writing down ten ideas every day and that way you’ll become good at coming up with ideas. That’s not your way. I would suggest to anyone who’s listening to this to get good at being aware of problems in the world, maybe identify one problem that you noticed, even if it’s just a little thing that goes around your house that most people just grow numb to. I see you nodding as I say this.
Andrew: And I would also suggest that instead of doing it on a notepad, do it online. Go to HostGator–and frankly, if you don’t like HostGator, I think they’re great, but you can to another site. I’d love for you to go to HostGator. Sign up for an account. Create a site where you just list problems, force yourself to be aware of problems that are existing in the world so that you can start to identify ones that you feel passionate about solving, that you see are painful enough that somebody needs to solve them.
If you do it, go to HostGator, sign up. In fact, if you use my special link, I’ll get credit for having recommended you, but also you will get 30% off. Here’s the link. Go to HostGator.com/Mixergy. They’ll give you 30% off their already low price. They’re going to give you a 45-day money back guarantee. They’ll give you 365 days a year, 24 hours a day technical support. They’re going to give you all the tools to get started. They’re going to give you a $100 AdWords offer, $50 search credit, everything that you need to get started.
They’re a fantastic company. Go sign up with them and then email me and let me see what you’ve done. Here’s a funny thing that you told our producer. Oh, I should also say HostGator.com/Mixergy. That should be the last thing I say at the end of each sponsorship message.
You said, “We’ve died many times and come back.” You’re a fairly young company. How do you die so many times? What’s one time that you died?
Ragy: In I think it was 2012, there was a period where all our competitors were getting acquired and I’d taken a different approach of building and building and working with clients before selling and marketing. Many of our competitors had started selling and marketing and building sales teams and selling their companies.
So there was a period where a lot of–the press and most of the market basically wrote us off, basically said social has matured, Buddy Media has gotten acquired, Vitrue has gotten acquired, names I can’t even remember are acquired, Radian6 is acquired. All the big guys have picked. The game is over. I was like, “Man, we’re just getting started. What are you talking about.”
Andrew: And at that point internally did people doubt? At the point internally did people say, “This is over? This guy is leading us beyond where we should be going. Maybe there’s ego involved.” Was any of that happening?
Andrew: They just trusted you?
Ragy: No. We just believed, man. There’s another maxim at Sprinklr where we think of things as future backwards.
Ragy: We see the future. We see a future where we know today the front office for these large companies are broken. You walk into a store. You walk into a branch of your local bank. They don’t know you. They don’t know who you are. They don’t know when you opened emails, went to the website, called the call center, clicked on the link and how long you spent. They don’t know you.
The guys behind the counter will go, “Sir, what’s your first name? What’s your last name? What’s your Social Security number?” They look you up and see the last three deposits you made and the four withdraws you made when they know everything else about you. You go to a store and someone asks you, “What’s your shoe size?” They know a lot more. The data is not coming together. The customer context is not there.
They have $100 million worth of content, yet in the moment of truth, the brand doesn’t know what to say except, “How may I help you?” So, it’s completely broken. That’s the future state that we see ourselves fixing. Now, work backwards to where we are. So, future backwards allows us with clarity, we see ourselves as the only company that’s architected from the ground up to solve it for big companies.
Andrew: And what do you see that big solution being?
Ragy: It’s called what I call experience management. Experience management platforms–that’s a category that I’m sure some genius will come along and name differently, but that needs to be a category, just like ERP.
Andrew: Experience management platform–so, when I walk into a hotel, they’re going to know who I am? When I call up T-Mobile, they’ll know who I am?
Ragy: That’s right. They should. They should not just know who you are after you’ve self-identified yourself. They should, at that moment of truth when the brand comes in contact with you as a customer, they should know everything the brand institution knows about you. It should be available at their fingertips.
Andrew: I would like to know that too. I go into our customer service email and I can’t tell, “Is this somebody who knows technology and I can give them a response? Is this someone who really likes us or someone brand new?” I can’t tell any of that. All I have is–and I have pretty good software for it–all I have are little things like tags about whether they’re a customer for us or not or whether they saw a specific email and clicked on it or not, but I really would like to know much more about them.
There’s one person who I saw did not get a good response. I went into my inbox, this guy runs a major company. I think the value is roughly where yours is. We’re talking $1 billion company. The guy was in my freaking mailing list. He had a problem. Nobody knew his name. So, they just responded and I went back and I had to say, “Hey, I’m a real human being. I see this problem. I’m really sorry this happened.”
I basically said, “I want you to like me,” with that interaction. But no one knew that. It frustrates me. If I didn’t know his name, I wouldn’t have known to respond to him like that.
Ragy: That’s right. That is the problem that big companies have at much bigger scale.
Ragy: It requires a different thinking, a different architecture to finally solve it correctly.
Andrew: Yeah. I’d love it solved on my level too. But I see why you’re going with enterprise. You said that your job–you told our producer–is your challenge is, “How do I motivate people? How do I inspire them?” So, what’s your process for motivating your team and inspiring them and getting them to believe in this future that’s so far away?
Ragy: So there should be a lot–there are a lot of people who should never be inspired by me. The key is to find the right people.
Andrew: Who should be inspired by you?
Ragy: People who can’t wake up every morning feeling passionate about doing something to make the world better. People who have this intellectual itch that needs to be scratched every day. People who wake up wanting to do big things. If you want to wake up, go to work, can’t wait for 5:00, there are plenty of companies you should go work for, but Sprinklr is not one of them. So it starts with finding people who are extremely smart, who can care about things, want to solve big problems, want to be part of a very, very hardworking team trying to solve a crazy big ass problem.
When we find them and once they come on board or before they come on board, I want to tell them about the big problem. I want to tell them why the world needs this problem to be solved. I want to tell them why we have a fiduciary obligation to solve it for everyone. I want to tell them how badly the world needs this to be solved and then I want them to work alongside the other 1,200 people that we have to go solve this every day through happiness, through sadness, through rainy days, through sunshine and I want them to feel what I feel. I want them to see the rainbow that I see. I want them to understand the why that keeps us going.
Andrew: How do you communicate that why and the rainbow? What’s your process for doing it?
Ragy: As the company grows, 20 people, 50 people, 100 people, 200 people, 500 people, it’s been a journey. At every level, you need to revisit your communication techniques. These days I just call it the communication tax. I didn’t know this. I was not aware of the communication tax and how steep it was in my early days. So, now we have literally every week, every leader–and there are about 250 leaders in the company–they have to meet with two levels of people below them, their direct reports and their direct reports.
Every week, the executive team meets with the entire leadership team. Every other week, we have literally the meeting is open to everyone at Sprinklr. Every quarter, we have a very formal all hands, which is like sort of produced. We have a weekly newsletter that goes out. We have internal social networking sites. We set our goals and we communicate them. We have a process to break it down. There’s a lot of these brute force ways we communicate and we get the feedback, we listen, we do surveys. We do a lot of things.
Andrew: I see.
Ragy: Nothing earth-shattering. We use all means available. Everyone is on Skype. Everyone is connected pretty much real time.
Andrew: It’s like all the ways that we try to persuade and communicate with people outside the company, you guys are doing that internally.
Ragy: That’s right.
Andrew: Let me close this out by asking you a personal question. I’ve noticed on camera as you lean forward there is a necklace around your neck.
Andrew: Can I ask you about that?
Andrew: What does it mean? Can we see it?
Ragy: Yeah. I actually have two things. So, these are beads that monks in India wear. So, I wear things that constantly remind me of things that I should be reminded of, I want to be reminded of. So that’s a black thread that reminds me of God. There’s nothing else on that threads. These beads remind me to stay connected to nature and the fundamental forces of life. I wear a little bracelet. This is Sprinklr jewelry. It has etched on it all our values. We give it out to our best employees.
Andrew: I see.
Ragy: So, these are things that just for me everything has a purpose and what I wear has these specific purposes.
Andrew: How do the beads connect you with life?
Ragy: It’s from the tree. It’s from the tree.
Andrew: I see. Why do you need to be connected to the tree and the life and the tree? How does that help?
Ragy: Life is very fleeting. You go through these trappings on this journey and you tend to forget what it’s all about and what it’s not all about. What it’s about is you are one of seven billion people. You just are a freak accident of nature that resulted in you. You’ve got to have that humility that you can just be taken away as quickly as you came and there won’t be a trace of you. So, you’ve just got to stay connected to those forces.
Andrew: And by being connected to that idea that at any moment it can be taken away just as randomly as it was given to you, how does that help you in business? How does that help you every day?
Ragy: It doesn’t. For me, it helps me in life. Business is just a part of my life. I don’t do business. I see problems that I’m passionate about solving.
Andrew: So how does it help you in your life to be that connected to it, if you don’t mind me asking?
Ragy: It gives you–this is what a lot of people in my mind don’t get, man. Ultimately people want promotions, they want more money. If you keep asking them, “Why? Why? Why?” I think the ultimate answer is they want to be happy. They think money gives them happiness, promotion gives them happiness, travel makes them happy, promotion makes them happy. But ultimately, that happiness you’re chasing is a state of mind you choose to be in.
Ragy: So it just reminds me that every ticking second is previous and the goal that you’ve got to keep about everything else is this notion that you’ve got to be happy inside you. It’s not for others. You’ve got to be happy inside you.
Andrew: Wow. What a great place to leave it. There’s so much more I could have asked you. Your story is so inspiring. I hope I get another opportunity to interview you. For anyone who wants to check it out, the website is Sprinklr with no -e. Man, I hope you write a book at some point. I really feel the spiritual part of you is the part that I haven’t gotten to dive into and that’s the part I’d like to spend like 300 to 400 pages reading.
Ragy: Thank you very much, Andrew. It was a pleasure.
Andrew: Thanks for being on here. My two sponsors are HostGator and Toptal. I’m grateful to them and I’m grateful to everyone for listening. Bye, everyone.