B2B 55 | Rocket Lane

B2B 55 | Rocket Lane

 

Success in the world of SaaS requires relentless customer focus, strategic community building, and the courage to pivot when you face go-to-market challenges. In this episode, we sit down with Srikrishnan Ganesan, the founder and CEO of Rocket Lane, to discuss the work behind building a successful go-to-market strategy. Srikrishnan shares his journey from launch to scale, revealing how Rocket Lane became a rising star in the SaaS industry. He shares the power of staying close to your customers, using their feedback to shape product development, and building a brand that resonates across LinkedIn and beyond. Srikrishnan also explains the importance of recognizing and rectifying go-to-market failures. He shares how learning when and how to pivot and adapt has shaped Rocket Lane’s growth. Moreover, Srikrishnan reveals his unique approach to identifying your target audience and creating tailored content, emphasizing the impact of rapid iteration and experimentation in the early stages of growth.  Hear the founder’s journey and learn the art of scaling success.

Listen to the podcast here

 

Customer-Centric SaaS: The Rocket Lane Approach In The Go-To-Market With Srikrishnan Ganesan

I have the great pleasure of hosting another successful founder in a B2B tech startup world. His name is Srikrishnan Ganesan. He is the Founder and CEO of Rocketlane. I’m excited to have you on the show.

Thanks for having me on.

This has been a trend in our show off late, which is you are one of the references from a previous guest who came on the show. I’m grateful and happy about the fact that guests are referring other guests. It also goes to show how well-connected you are within the startup community.

We have a nice community that’s been growing, helping each other out, and learning from each other. I am glad to be part of it and excited to see all the progress many companies are making like a cohort of companies that start around the same time. Everyone is growing, learning, and evolving.

Let’s get right into the meat of the topic, which is how do you view and define go-to-market?

The way I view and define go-to-market is there is a series of motions that need to be in place. Part of it would fall under the marketing side and sales side of things typically, but it’s about how you are creating a presence for yourself in the market and getting your product into the hands of customers. Part of it is audience building, getting people to come in and check out your offering, and outreach you’re doing, like the outbound motions that you may have. How are you even messaging this? How are you crafting the right story for what you’re selling? This can be taken by many marketing channels, and one is to one channel to the right audience to pull them in and convince them to buy. That whole journey is what I view as go-to-market.

You touched upon quite a few things that I want to echo and highlight. You talked about the connection between product marketing and sales. That’s one piece. Second, you talked about audience building and community building. We’ll dive into that pre-flight community that you have been building. That’s a second aspect.

Third is the storytelling aspect. All of these pieces have to come together to connect the dots between what is a pain point? Who is a pain point? Who are you addressing it for? How is your product solving it? Let’s step back, take a bigger picture of your career, and walk us through your career journey and what led you to what you’re doing NOW.

Deep in my heart, I’m a coder. That’s what I enjoyed doing through my undergrad years. I surprised myself and others around me. I went to B-School immediately after my undergrad, but I was still in love with technology and creation. I was like, “I want to be a product manager.” I found a career in product management at Verizon and an Indian company called Rediff.com. Think of it as the Yahoo/AOL from India, an early web property. It’s stuck in between being a media company, a product company, and a tech company in a way.

I joined a startup as the Head of Product in a company called Jigsee, which was acquired by another startup a few years later. That journey gave me a lot of confidence in building not a product but a company because I was one of the first three employees. Three of us joined on the same day. I built the team and company and looked for office space. You need to have a certain false sense of how easy it is. You need to be a little delusional to start. That delusion had happened at that time. I was like, “I did it at Jigsee. I can do it on my own. Let me go and do a startup.”

B2B 55 | Rocket Lane
Rocket Lane: You need to be a little delusional to start up.

 

I pulled in a couple of friends. Three of us were excited to start on a journey. We started with something B2C and pivoted into B2B in the messaging space. We were trying to take on WhatsApp and pivoted to do B2B messaging SDK. That startup was acquired by a company called Freshworks in 2015. The three of us continued to build that business within Freshworks for the next several years. That was going to a SaaS school in a way for us. We learned a lot in that journey. We decided it was time to graduate and try something on our own again. In 2020, we started Rocketlane. That’s been my career.

You got into product management with Verizon and the FiOS TV. As a side note and related notes, I was at Microsoft Media Room, the IPTV platform, doing product marketing. Our worlds crossed back then. We didn’t know each other back then, but I can relate to that world of yours. You switched to Rediff. You also mentioned being an early employee at Jigsee and Konotor. That’s the startup that you co-founded, which was acquired by Freshworks. Now you’re onto your second official startup, which is Rocketlane.

It’s been a fun ride.

Given this varied path, how do your family members describe what you do?

They know I do a ton of things. I’m on customer calls quite often. They know I always, from Jigsee days to Konotor days to now, do a bunch of customer support myself. I’m jumping on not just escalations, but if I have free time and see someone chatting with us, I would try to jump on that. For them, it was like,  “He runs the company. He’s a CEO at a high level.” They know I do that. I am more on the sales side in our startup. That’s how much they know.

You seem to do and come across as everyone or every role for your family. If you are a founder, you need to wear multiple hats, and the fact that you have a supporting family gives you the space, time, and energy, which says a lot about the family support you are having. Coming back to what you were doing at Rocketlane in the early days, walk us through it. What is Rocketlane? What prompted you to go down this path? Who do you serve in this space?

This stems from personal experience. We look back towards the end of our journey in Freshworks. What was a broken experience for us or our customers in the whole seven and a half years we spent building this business? We were thinking, “Are there teams that were underserved? Are there experiences that were playing wrong?”

One thing that stuck out was the implementation journey. You’ve sold an amazing deal, and now you’re worried. We sold all of that. We’re going to transfer that context to the implementation team, but who do we put on that team? You have some heroes in mind from the team. You are like, “If I give it to Sodir, he’s going to do a great job, but he’s already doing these three other big projects. Who’s going to manage this? If I give it to someone else, will they do a sloppy job?”

It’s hero-driven as an experience. It’s the first partnership that the customer is experiencing with you. Post-purchase, the first partnership. A lot of people on the customer side are in the dark about what’s happening. A leader on the customer side only knows, “It’s been several months since I purchased this. We are not yet live.”

B2B 55 | Rocket Lane
Rocket Lane: A lot of people on the customer side are in the dark on what’s actually happening.

 

You may have reasons to say, “No, it was your team. Here is where the problems were. This integration didn’t work.” There are excuses but when you think about it, the ball is always in your court. That’s how you should treat it. That’s where we said, “There is scope for something different.” Instead of using a bunch of ad hoc tools like Slack, Asana, Notion, Google Docs, email, SurveyMonkey, or all of that together in this implementation journey, what if we build one all-in-one experience that is purpose-built for running customer-facing projects?

We didn’t say to just implement it. We said, “Let’s go after customer-facing projects of all kinds where there is an internal team, external team, and potentially a partner team. They’re using a bunch of silo tools. Let’s stitch together those experiences.” If you’re running a services team within a product company or a services business, you also want to learn where people are spending time. You want to tie effort to revenue from that project.

There are the PSA capabilities, time tracking, resource management, rate cards, and project accounting. We brought together all of that as one offering. We play in two key categories. PSA, Professional Services Automation, and client onboarding. That’s what the tool helps with running customer-facing projects and services projects. How do you hold each other accountable? How do you provide a better customer-centric experience? How do you automate a lot? Because it’s purpose-built for these projects, there’s a ton of automation that’s never been dabbled in before that we are able to enable.

That’s what the best founders do, which is to figure out what is the problem that they saw firsthand. They build a hypothesis around it. They go about validating the problem and building a solution for those personas. Coming from Freshwork and even at the early time in your prior startup, you had that hypothesis that onboarding and implementation were potential pain points, but that’s in your mind. How did you go about validating? You need to have that customer validation for the first 5 to 10 early adopters or beta participants. How did you go about doing that?

We didn’t write a single line of code, launch an MVP, or do any of that early on. We said, “Let’s focus on validation. Let’s talk to as many people as we can.” We took two and a half to three months. We spoke to around 60 to 70 companies. We spoke to different roles in these companies. We spoke to the CEO, CCO, implementation leader, and implementation manager. We want to get all the perspectives. Some of them are their investors.

Is this a big problem? Does this problem have visibility? Is there value assigned to or related to solving the problem? Is it one of the top five problems for the company? Is it one of the top five problems for the CCO? We want to know, at each level, where this priority for solving this problem lies. One thing we found was there are enough companies, especially within SaaS, which is what we started with as our beachhead, where people cared a lot about that time to value and launch.

The reason was time to value creates a stickiness. Time to launch is essential for pulling forward revenues. Closed ARR is far ahead of your live ARR because a lot of customers are stuck in implementation. That’s what investors and CEOs cared about. On the other hand, when we talked to the CCO and implementation head, we got a little more perspective on what are their key challenges. They want to hold customers accountable in a better way. They want more automation and streamlined experiences. They want their teams to follow the playbook the right way.

All of those problems came out. We started thinking. How can we solve all of this? What experiences will help? We use an approach called jobs to be done to build a product. Before we build a product, we want to understand the jobs to be done by the people and the software we build. We came up with the right hypothesis of what can help these people. Is it a people problem, a process problem, or a system problem? Where they see it as the problem, there should be elements in the product that can help them with the people problem, process problem, and the system itself.

B2B 55 | Rocket Lane
Rocket Lane: Before we build a product, we want to understand the jobs to be done by the people and the jobs to be done for the software we build so that we come up with the right hypothesis of what can actually help these people.

 

That’s the journey we took in early validation. We spent enough energy on it. We talked beyond what we felt was our ICP because early on, we said series B plus companies is what we want to focus on. Opportunistically, we’ve met an early-stage founder. We’ll also talk to them and understand how they think about this.

It helped because we uncovered that an early-stage company, a seed series A and early series B type company, somehow made things work on time. That’s the only thing they focus on. They have only a few customers. They make things work but then they want to come across as professional. That was their problem. They wanted to look bigger than they were and make an impression. “We said, “That’s also a problem we should try to solve.”

The last point you mentioned boils down to the messaging. Messaging to a persona or ICP that is pre-series B versus messaging to a post-series B would be different. That’s the early validation phase. You said that you spoke to 60 to 70 people in a 2 to 3-month timeframe. At the end of the three months, is that when you had a good idea of the product hypothesis and business model?

We started working on high-fidelity prototypes of what we felt were key experiences that the product needs to enable and key problems that need to be solved. Beyond that first three-month period, we started to build the basic building blocks of the offering. We also started to show people these early prototypes and marked click-through prototypes to say, “We don’t have a product yet. We are not selling to you. You described the problem before. We want to show you how we are thinking about the solution. Let us know if this resonates with you. Let us know if you think this will solve the problem or if there’s something else that could be magical in this experience.”

We started doing that over the next year. We didn’t launch an MVP. We launched a full-featured product. Along the way, we kept showing the product and the prototypes to more people. I had a notion document with 120 companies, the contact, what feedback we were hearing from them, and what stage they were in from the conversations I had in that period where only the conversations that I felt were worth pursuing. I added it to this list. Having a CRM. We had a notion table with all of this data. When we launched, we went out to all of these folks.

This was in April of 2020 when you officially came out, and you incorporated Rocketlane.

That’s when we incorporated. We came out in June 2021.

Something else that caught my attention, and kudos to you and the founding team, is you built a community from the early days, the pre-flight community starting in September of 2020.

That was nine months before we launched our product, which is unique. Most people think about it after some traction.

Many people don’t even think about it.

Two things happened here. One is as we had these conversations with people, I wasn’t focused on what the software does. I was trying to understand the people problems, the process problems, and the system problems. I could see that different kinds of companies were focused on solving different pieces of the problem.

Some of them that were more enterprise were more focused. They were like, “I’m holding customers accountable. I need a steering committee so that the key decisions are made on time.” There were some folks that talked more about how you start the journey matters so much. Start with the right intensity. What do you do at kickoff matters? In every conversation I had, I would ask them about where things were several months ago. How have you evolved? What are you focusing on improving?

There was so much learning for me personally on what people were trying out to solve problems and implementations launch faster, giving a better experience for the customer. If everyone is focused on different things, its implementation feels like one part of the customer journey, but it’s a complex part. If I get these people to talk to each other, there’s so much cross-pollination of ideas that can happen. All of them can benefit.

B2B 55 | Rocket Lane
Rocket Lane: Implementation feels like one part of the customer journey, but it’s actually a very complex part.

 

I invited one of my friends who said, “I used to have a six-month-long implementation. I’ve shortened it to six weeks.” I was like, “Tell me more. I’m open to talking about this to a wider group of founders and practitioners.” He said, “Yes. Organized a session.” We called it an implementation story session where he talked about all of it. There were many questions and engagement.

Was it a Zoom virtual or in-person session?

It was Zoom. This was during the pandemic. The session was very engaging. There were 25 people who joined. There are many questions. I was like, “He’s got to go. We can continue the conversation on Slack. Let me create a Slack group.” That’s what turned into pre-flight the community because I already wanted to do the community.

This became the catalyst for that action to happen. We said, “Every month, we are going to invite two people to talk about how they have evolved their implementations, and let’s all learn together.” It was a great source of content and building an audience because we started reaching out to folks about these events. We said, “Join the community to get access to the events.”

Did you invite that speaker? Did you have that first session after your 60 to 70 conversations or even before?

It was after the first 60 to 70 conversations.

We can deep dive into this topic alone, but we’ll save that for another time. You are several years old now. You are yet in terms of number of customers, revenue, and funding.

We keep the revenue part private. We have over 400 amazing logos that have come on board. It’s companies like Clari, Drift, Mixmax, Vidyard, Unifor, Amelia, and a whole bunch of amazing logos globally. We raised $21 million of funding to date. That’s an $18 million series A and a $3 million seed that we did. Things are on a great track from the momentum perspective, given it’s a few years from launch.

Thank you for sharing your growth story and journey. That’s commendable. I’m excited and happy for you guys and the way you’ve been validating the problem and building your company, Rocketlane. I’m switching gears a bit here. Let’s talk about a go-to-market success story and a go-to-market failure story. It can be for you when you are building Rocketlane or any of your customers.

I would say go-to-market success story. I’m going to use the example of what we did on G2. Early in the journey, we said, “We need to get a good presence on G2.” We saw that we had few competitors at the early stage in this category called client onboarding. The highest one had 80 reviews, and it felt beatable. We had 30 customers in the first two months since launch. It shouldn’t be hard if people like the product to get them to review it. That’s something we focused on.

It wasn’t like marketing owns it. It was like all of us owned it between customer success, which drove a lot of sales, marketing, and anyone in the company. If we knew there was a customer who had had a good experience with us, we would pounce on them for a G2 review. We push them to rate us and give that ranking. We are number one on G2 in our category. We are the highest rated and highest number of ratings in the category.

I’m proud of what we accomplished over there. It has a big impact because, in the early days, we focused a lot more on SMB. Now we have a lot of mid-market and above-type customers, but all these folks search for tools and alternative tools. If you come up in the top 2 or top 3 on a platform like G2, you make it into the consideration set. The number one always has a lot more momentum in the sense that people consider that first. They talk to them first, and they ask the others, “How do you differentiate from the number one?”

In that sense, it puts you in a poll position in any competitive evaluation. That’s what you want. That would be a success story. There are a lot of tactics and specific things we did to get that momentum on G2. We are happy to chat one-on-one with people on that, but it was a great investment of our time and energy for that phase of our journey to get up to being number one in that space.

If you can share 1 or 2 tactics, what drove the success that would be helpful for the readers?

If someone has a support issue they came up with, and you delivered a good experience for them, and they say thank you, that’s a moment for you to latch on and say, “We are always happy to help you. We’d also be glad if you’re able to help us and leave a review for us on G2. It means a lot for us as a growing business.” Add that emotional appeal, ask them, and they will do it.

The other thing we did is if you give something, you get something. Sometimes, customers ask for discounts, especially early in the journey. We said, “If you want a discount, we give you this discount, but in return, we need G2 reviews from your team.” We can’t control what they say in the reviews, but we push people to give us those reviews. There are ways to incentivize.

We can't control what customers say in the review, but we can push them to give us those reviews. Click To Tweet

When I was running go-to-market and marketing teams and even product growth in previous companies, that was one of the tactics that we used to do, which is to run an email campaign and a phone LinkedIn campaign and even offer gift cards. Gift cards are more to get attention. I’ve seen the quality of reviews not necessarily tied to the value of the gift card. It’s more of how happy that customer is with that product or service. Gift card is a little cherry on the topic. Now go-to-market failure story because we all know it’s not success all the way. How about a go-to-market failure story?

There’s a big lesson from my previous journey. I don’t know if your show reaches more early stage and late stage. There’s a big lesson for anyone in the early stage, at least from my previous journey. We launched this SDK that went into other people’s apps and enabled rich conversations between customers using apps and businesses.

Is this from your time at Konotor?

This was Konotor. Even inside Freshworks, we first relaunched as Hotline.io. We had the same problem go-to-market problem over there. This was an evangelical product in the sense that people weren’t looking for it yet. They didn’t know that they could deliver a WhatsApp or iMessage-style experience inside their app and why they should do it. We had to educate the market a fair bit.

We were ahead of the game in the journey already because we had to go, educate the market, and tell them about how this would create a better experience for customers and how that would lead to stickiness for their apps. Most apps, back in 2012 and 2013, were still figuring out what their app should do. They weren’t in a frame of mind to say, “I need to improve the support experience inside my app. Who should my app serve, firstly?”

When we showcase this, there are companies of all kinds. There was enough feedback we got saying, “Can you also provide this for the web? We want to use one platform for web and mobile.” We did not listen to the customer and not even to our own sales manager. We said, “The experience for web live chat is different from WhatsApp-style asynchronous communication. That’s what we are focused on. We don’t want to dilute it by trying to serve someone else.”

The reality was no one in this mobile messaging space, and the mobile SDK space grew fast. Everyone was slow and chunky growth. On the other hand, there were companies like Intercom and Drift doing what we did for web apps. They were growing like crazy. We completely missed the bus on that. We could have been there. We could have been growing that fast as a bootstrapped startup, and we missed that completely. The size of the market and a real validation of who will buy, why they will buy, and what the priority is. We missed all of that in our thinking about going to market. That is one weakness.

The reality was no one in this mobile messaging space mobile SDK space grew fast. Click To Tweet

How are you fixing that at Rockelane, where you’re not missing out on those big signals that are coming out?

If we didn’t have the momentum we had in the first two months, we would have pivoted immediately. Optimizing for momentum is the learning over there for us. What that also means is you can’t do anything in a half-hatted way where you’re thinking, “Was it A or B? Was it because I didn’t do enough marketing? Was it because I didn’t have a good brand? Was it because I didn’t have the right message?”
You should test out everything quickly. You shouldn’t be like, “I’ll spend six more months and then I figured out maybe it’s the message or I need to change that.” There needs to be rapid attrition and a lot of early validation of the messages before we even launch the product.

You should test out everything quickly. Click To Tweet

That’s been how we’ve approached things at Rocketlane. When you’re doing something, do it in a way in which there’s no second guessing on why it did not work and extending the timeline of an experiment to say, “It didn’t work. Let me try something else for a longer period of time.” We started doing Google Ads early because we wanted to understand, “Will this be a channel that will scale for us? I didn’t want to wait it out until a certain point in time and a certain number of customers before spending on ads. Let’s do it.”

What also surfaces in my mind when you’re sharing this story is the role of product marketing. Early on, especially in the early days with the founders who are wearing the head of product marketing, and as you scale, it looks like you’re at 80, 85, or 90 employees at Rocketlane. As a founder and CEO, what is your message to your product marketing team? What are the challenges that they’re dealing with?

The big thing that we focus on is people are actively listening to customer conversations every day, whether you’re in marketing, product marketing, or other functions. Even our engineers listen to customer conversations because you build context on what the pain is for the customer, what words resonate with them, and how they describe their problems when you listen to it from the horse’s mouth.

Listen to customer conversations because you build so much context on what is the pain for the customer and what words resonate with them. Click To Tweet

There is nothing better than building context together. From day one, we’ve recorded every single conversation we had, even those first 60 to 70 conversations, before we decided what to do. Every prospect conversation is recorded. We use Avoma. We auto-generate these summaries that get posted on Slack. People read that. That’s a trigger for them to go and watch a conversation.

The biggest thing is how we build a common context. I don’t even have to say anything. People know what’s happening. What does the customer care about? From a direction perspective, we want to set direction by saying, “We want to focus on that mid-market customer. Watch out for more of these calls. We are trying to sell to services companies, not services teams and SaaS companies, or the message needs to change for that audience. Who do you want to talk to? Let me facilitate.”

We had fifteen service leaders do sessions for us. They did it pro bono out of the goodwill of their heart. There’s a promising company that’s taking a certain direction. Let’s spend time with that team. Let’s tell them about our world. If people get curious, they will ask questions. Validate like, “What’s the top priority? How would you describe this problem? What do you think will solve this problem?”

The way I look at product marketing is you can break it down into 6 to 8 categories or programs. You have the positioning, messaging, customer insights, competitor insights, sales enablement, new product launch, new market launch, product content, and product adoption. You have ticked the boxes, especially in the early days, where you have focused on the customer insights program and making sure that every employee, not just marketing or sales, is listening to these customer conversations.

Going forward, something that caught my attention is you mentioned going upmarket. It looks like if you were to pick an area that you want your product marketing leader or marketing leader to focus on for your go-to-market, which would that be? Would it be like a new market, product content, or product adoption?

It is honing in on this new market we’ve landed on and ensuring that we are enabling the sales team to approach that market the right way. We’re doing a lot of enablement sessions internally. We focused on that.

Given that you’ve got a good track record when it comes to early company building and fundraising, what are the 1 or 2 things, especially when it comes to go-to-market, that industry peers or folks from your network reach out to you for? They go, “This is something that Sri is good at. Let’s go reach out to Sri.”

There are a few things I would say. One is marketing. People keep reaching out because we have quite a buzzing social presence like LinkedIn presence. People reach out about that. It’s more brand than demand gen or other stuff. Community and brand are areas where I think people keep reaching out and sales momentum. Early-stage founders reach out about the 0 to 1 journey, which we did within our first year of launch. That was a fun early first year for us. A lot of people have heard about that. They reach out to ask about what are things that you did, mistakes, and learnings from that early journey.

You have all the items in a successful or winning go-to-market. It was around content.

Another area where people reach out is if they have problems with their implementation or onboarding.

It goes without saying I was diving deeper into what other, besides your core offering and core expertise. The point I mentioned earlier is you have all the key ingredients and elements when it comes to winning go-to-market, which is the content. You have community and experience/events. It goes back to doing that early reach out, validating the problem, and building content around it, which is your presence on LinkedIn and others. You have the community, which is a pre-flight community, and experiences and events. You must be running some customer events and having a good presence in industry trade shows.

That’s an area we pride ourselves on in terms of in-event execution. In pre-event planning, we could do better. At the event, we are the hungriest team, and we do some unique things over there.

We’ll save that for another episode. I have the last couple of questions. I know you need to head back to your company building days. The two questions I have for you are, who are the 1, 2, or 3 people who have played and shaped your career growth, and who have played a key role in your career growth and inflection?

One is Girish Mathrubootham, the Founder of Freshworks. I got to work closely with him. I’m a huge admirer. I learn every time I meet him. I learned something from him. I would say Krish of Chargebee. He is another founder that I have. I get different perspectives from Girish and Krish on a lot of things. I need to figure out what I want to do. It’s good to pick their brains and get that different perspective. There are many founders, like Ashwini from Mad Street Den and Sahil from Rattle. There are a lot of folks who are on similar journeys with us. I’m big on community. The same applies to the founder community. I’m actively learning from a lot of people.

That’s a key ingredient. It doesn’t matter which part of your go-to-market journey you are in, early days, or even the growth and scale phase. It’s important to have a personal board of advisors. You’re building that. Do you carve out an hour a week? Is it one hour a month? What is your focus in this area?

It’s sometimes more reactive, but I have cadences with 3 or 4 founders. We have it on the calendar for one hour a month to go over a bunch of things together.

The final question for you is, if you were to turn back the clock, what advice would you give to your younger self on day one of your go-to-market journey?

Hire leaders faster.

Why is that? Why did you come to that realization, and when?

We hired a sales leader who’s been impactful. It’s given me more time and energy to focus on other things. It tells me, “If we make the right hires earlier in the journey, it makes it easier for everyone, including the teams you’re building.” You can do more justice to your team if you get them to work with a great leader.

If we make the right hires earlier in the journey, it makes it easier for everyone, including the teams you're building. Click To Tweet

Thank you so much for your time, Sri. I enjoyed the conversation and the actionable insights that you shared with the readers. Good luck to you and your team at Rocketlane.

Thanks so much, Vijay.

 

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B2B 52 | Clin.AI

B2B 52 | Clin.AI

 

Start before you’re ready. Entrepreneurship is about embracing uncertainty, trying new things, and learning from every step along the way. In this episode, our guest, Kalyan Obalampalli, discusses the journey of his creation: Clin.AI, a groundbreaking platform for clinical trial vendor selection and management. He reveals the ups and downs, the moments of doubt, and the incredible perseverance it took to build a product from scratch. Kalyan shares how he transitioned from a free pilot to a paid subscription model, scaling Clin.AI to possibly six-figure annual contract values. But entrepreneurship is not all smooth sailing. Kalyan shares his honest go-to-market failure story, where he experimented with marketing agencies and discovered the importance of a founder finding their own voice in messaging. Throughout the episode, Kalyan’s key advice to his younger self resonates: “You don’t know where you can go unless you start.” Tune in now to gain a fresh perspective on entrepreneurship and innovation!

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Clin.AI: Pioneering Automation In Clinical Trials With Kalyan Obalampalli

I have the pleasure of hosting a Founder, CEO, and a good friend, Kalyan Obalampalli, who is the Founder and CEO of Clin.AI. With that, welcome to the show, Kalyan.

Thank you, Vijay. It’s a pleasure to talk to you. I’m looking forward to this conversation.

Same here. We have been in touch over the last couple of years. I’m excited and happy for you to see how we have grown your company from an idea to what you’ve been doing so far. We will unpack all of that in the episode. Welcome once again. As with each and every guest of mine, I always start with the signature question. This show is all about go-to-market, and I would love to get your perspective. How do you view and define go-to-market?

I don’t have any formal knowledge. I didn’t ever delve into understanding what go-to-market is, to start with. I was like a startup founder who found the idea, believed in it, and didn’t figure out how to sell it. The way I have at least thought about go-to-market is, “What am I selling? Who’s my customer? How am I going to sell it?” Those were the questions that I saw in the most basic definition.

Over the years, I identified some gaps in the industry. If you remember, you were kind enough to tell me the most important thing, which was to interview a lot of people and understand, “Is this a problem or not?” Fundamentally, that’s where we started. We understood it was a problem and then believed in it. We gave the clarity after all the interviews that it was an issue because, a lot of times, the question that came to me was, “This is so simple. How can this still be a problem? How come people haven’t thought about a solution?”

Once that was said, we built a product that helps small to mid biotechs with vendor selection. The second thing was we identified who needed it the most. The bigger companies needed it, too, but we identified our ideal client profile to be small to mid biotechs with less than 200 employees in most cases, although we have clients bigger than that.

How do we reach out to them? That’s the part where I struggled quite a bit, but what I identified was our industry is pretty traditional. I identified that the way we are going to find our customers was to go out into the market, go to conferences, speak to people, and make that personal one-to-one relationship, and that’s where I can make them understand the value proposition.

Interestingly, my first client turned out to be one of the first twenty interviews that I did in 2020 after our discussion. One of them picked up the phone. She talked to me for twenty minutes. When I built something, I called her. The funny thing is what I built was not what she needed. She said, “If you build this, I’m going to use it.” As you know the story, I learned how to code. In a month, I built what she wanted. That was how we go-to-market.

The way I summarized and took away from how you view and define go-to-market is it’s very typical with founder-led startups and founder phases or approaches in the early days of a startup, which is based around the basics starting with, “What is a problem? Is anyone out there solving this problem? What is the problem that I saw firsthand? Let me go out and validate if it’s a problem.” That’s one. Second, if it’s a problem, someone is willing to pay money for it. That’s super important as well. That’s the approach you took for your go-to-market, and that’s how you view, approach, and define go-to-market.

In the process, similar to how we touched base, I touched base with the CEO of a small company who had sold his company to somebody else. He was the first one who challenged me. I was telling him about how many contracts we have facilitated through the platform. His question was, “How much did you get paid?” That’s a question that hit hard, but that night was when I wrote my first proposal asking the company to pay me for my services. A month later, they signed the contract.

Let’s zoom out. I’m sure we will unpack and get into a lot of the details around Clin.AI, the go-to-market, the clients, and so on, but let’s zoom out a bit over here. Why don’t you tell and share your career story with our audiences? Who is Kalyan? Why did you choose this space? What were you doing prior to Clin.AI? Let’s take it from there.

I’m in the pharmaceutical industry running clinical trials. That’s what I’ve done. How did I get into it? I’m an engineer by education. Due to many reasons, I fell into this space. I was in preclinical research, and then I got into clinical research. Since then, I’ve been doing this for years and running clinical trials. People are a lot more familiar with what clinical trials are after COVID. That’s what I’ve been doing so far.

Throughout the process, I’ve always wanted to do something for myself and start my own business. In 2016, I started something to do with vending machines. It had nothing to do with my education or anything else, but I wanted to do something fun. I didn’t have kids at that time, so I had a lot of time on my hands. My wife always used to encourage me to do something in my field because she thought that might be the best use of my time.

As I kept thinking about things, there were clinical research and clinical trials. If you talk to anybody, there is no dearth of gaps. There are so many things that we do on paper or Excel files. It’s almost unbelievable we’re that far behind. It’s well-known that the uptake of technology is very slow. That’s where I identified a few gaps. You have to hit upon a challenge that you’re so passionate about that you want to solve it.

In the process of running trials, everything is outsourced. You outsource things to vendors. When you outsource, the contract costs or the contract values are anywhere from $2 million, $3 million, $5 million, $10 million, $15 million, $20 million, $30 million, $40 million, to $50 million. We were negotiating these all the time using Excel files, and that’s how we did it. I felt that the amount of due diligence I was doing was less than what I would do even if I hired someone to remodel my kitchen. That’s how I felt.

In 2020 September, I selected vendors for $100 million, which eventually became $130 million because of changes and change orders. That was it. I decided somebody had to do this. I quit my job and bought a laptop. It was me and a laptop. I remember walking into this building, looking for a shared space, and learning how to code. That kept going on. I kept coding, built something, and pivoted as every other company does. That’s how Clin.AI started.

That’s a very cool story. Kudos to your wife for pushing you into doing a startup and working on a problem that’s close to your main field versus vending machines. I want to get into the vending machine story though. What prompted you to go down the vending machines? What did you learn? I’m sure if you go back and connect the dots, everything plays a role.

First of all, as far as my wife’s advice goes, I give credit to me because I listened to her. The vending machine thing has a critical role because when I started that business, it was about providing healthier products to the customers using vending machines. That’s what I was doing. The machines were state-of-the-art. You could use iPhones, Google Pay, Apple Pay, or whatever you want on these machines. Plus, you get organic and healthier products.

When I started, there were two companies that I finalized that I would probably work with. I ended up working with one of them, and it worked out. The second that I did not choose went bankrupt after nine months. The first thing that I understood was it’s very important to choose partners. It’s about people. It’s not about the amount of money you’re going to pay them. I went with the expensive one, but I knew that this company was not after my money. They were going to give me at least what they said they would provide. That was my first lesson.

It's very important to choose business partners. It's about people, not the amount of money you're going to pay them. Click To Tweet

The other important thing that came to my mind was, “How do you get customers?” You have no idea how to get customers. I remember walking into this college. I knew nobody there. I walked in and talked to this guy who was sitting in the cafeteria. He was managing the cafeteria. We started talking. Initially, I couldn’t strike a chord with a lot of people, but then this is a place where Pepsi was already there. I walked in and talked to this guy. We got Pepsi out of that college, making a case, “This is unhealthy stuff. Maybe you should offer healthier stuff.”

It was not that easy to sell, but eventually, I was able to kick Pepsi out, which is a huge deal in the vending machine area. That gave me confidence that I could possibly walk into a business that I have no idea about and talk to a customer that I have no idea who that is. People give you a chance. People don’t buy the product. They buy you. That was my first lesson in learning that.

That’s a great story and lesson there. How did you manage to get Pepsi out of that cafeteria? I would assume you or the cafeteria person would have gotten some incentives to keep Pepsi in there. How did you work around that?

Pepsi is huge. That’s a good and a bad thing for them. It’s good because they can give a big percentage of their sales to the college. It’s bad because the products are horrible. It’s full of preservatives. You know the story of the snacks that they make. For example, Pepsi snacks won’t go bad for the next year and a half. They sit in the vending machine forever. This stuff can be good for you. If you look at some of the colleges, there have been a lot of movements in the colleges like Ban the Bottle. They don’t want any water bottles and things like that. The colleges or the next generation are moving into that area.

Those were my talking points. I made a case, “Would you want to consider giving something? I’m not saying that this is perfect. This is healthy. Do you want to get to that next step where you are providing products that are healthier than what you have? You can’t go to healthy. You can’t start putting bananas in there because nobody is going to buy.”

That was our step, “Do you want to take this interim step to get slightly closer? We’re never going to have sugary products like Coke or Pepsi. This is what we’re going to have. We’re going to have organic bars and things like that.” That was attractive to them. They felt like they were going to make a move in the positive direction. It’s going to be seen as a positive step by their management. That’s how we were able to sell it. Financially, we tried to make it as attractive for them as possible. It’s a combination of the intent and the monetary side of things, plus making a case that they can sell internally. That’s how the whole vending thing started.

Those are all key points, especially in the B2B space where you have to connect with the buyer or the person who has the buying power. More often than not, especially in B2B, it’s not one buyer, but it’s a team of buyers and influencers.

There’s more than one person who makes the decision. Another big lesson that I learned was how you service the client is another important part. You can get the contract, but then if the customer is not happy, it’s very easy for yourself to get demotivated and also for the business to collapse pretty quickly. That has been the mantra for Clin.AI when I started. The biggest thing was to find customers and then make them extremely happy. That has been how the company has grown so far. We have spent probably zero on marketing in quite a few months, maybe up to a year. We spent nothing on marketing. It was all word of mouth and people talking about us. I didn’t mean to digress there, but that was something I kept to my mind.

You can get the contract. But if the customer is not happy, it's very easy for your to get demotivated and for the business to collapse. Click To Tweet

This is relevant to the next topic that we are going to talk about, which is where is Clin.AI at in terms of customers, pipeline, revenue, or whatever you’re comfortable sharing with. We all know that it’s still early days. No number is small. It’s more about the growth. It will get bigger and better from here.

2022 was a great year for us. 2021 was when we launched, but that was the year when we were testing the system. It takes about 4 months to 5 months for a vendor to be selected because these are anywhere from $15 million to $30 million and $40 million of contracts. In 2022, we had an excellent year. We have ended up with a very strong number of customers.

In terms of how we have grown, we have seen a 500% growth year over year from ’21 to ’22. ’22 to ’23 may not be in terms of customers but in terms of revenue. We’re going to be six figures in terms of signing contracts. We will have to wait and see how everything turns out. It’s not been easy, but fortunately, we have hit upon an area where there is a need because I remember going to a conference. I was late for breakfast. I was kicking myself that I spent all this money and came to the conference, and now I wake up late. I was late for breakfast. I was getting into the elevator, and somebody else was late too. We had breakfast together. They became a customer. I figured out, “I’m walking into customers.”

I felt like this is a need in the industry. That’s where we started in 2021, but now, we have seen significant growth so far in terms of how we have done it. One of our customers has been telling us we have saved them $8.5 million in 2022. The ROI in at least one of the cases is greater than 100 to 1 or something along those lines. That has been our story.

We’re making sure the customers are extremely happy, using their word of mouth, and getting more customers. In 2023, we have invested quite a bit in getting a salesforce on board and also going to a lot more conferences and having a lot more discussions. That’s where we are. Another significant step in this is we took a step back earlier in 2023 to build another product.

Generally, what I kept hearing from the people I was talking to was, “If something is selling, keep selling it.” Although I agreed with that, I felt like vendor selection was one part of it. You have to manage the vendors too. We took a step back for about three months and developed another product for management. We have rolled it out to a few customers. It might become our flagship product in the future.

Back in the days when you and I were talking, you were contemplating building a marketplace on a platform. Think of it. If you are trying to build a one-sided marketplace, let’s say the pain level is 100. If you’re talking about a two-sided marketplace, the pain level is 500. It jumps exponentially. You and I went back and forth. The advice that I gave is, “Which side is willing to pay? Start on that side of things first.”

A marketplace is a very simplistic idea that a lot of people dream about. In the limited research that I did or whatever I could do, I learned that there’s only one marketplace typically that survives the market. Facebook was the last one. Beyond that, maybe there haven’t been too many of a similar kind. It’s a simplistic idea. As we discussed, which side do we go after first? A marketplace is something that people can get to eventually. The main thing is to start on one side, find the pain point, start filling that gap, and deliver the results.

B2B 52 | Clin.AI
Clin.AI: Start on one side, find the pain point, and start filling that gap and deliver the results.

 

I have a lot of vendors reaching out to me, “Can I be on your platform?” There’s no need to be on our platform. If a sponsor wants to reach out to you, we will get you on for free, but a lot of people keep reaching out. That’s a good sign. Will we implement that in the future and make that a main part of our business? It’s something that we can contemplate in the future, but as of now, we have identified an area or a niche of selecting vendors and managing vendors. We want to stick to that. Eventually, will we serve both sides? We potentially may, but as of now, we’re going to park that idea on the sidelines and consider what’s working so far.

Here’s the reason why I wanted to bring it up, especially for the audiences who are aspiring founders or founders in the early stages. You can, you will, and you should go with a hypothesis. In your case, it was building a marketplace. Maybe that’s a pain point, and maybe that’s what you need to pursue, but after you reach out and talk to “the buyers and customers,” that’s where your hypothesis will evolve. It was not the marketplace.

Those interviews were critical. I give a lot of credit to the interviews for this reason. You had forwarded me 3 or 4 articles at that time. They’re very simplistic ones. I probably didn’t read three. I only read one. I asked you this question specifically. You had formed a hypothesis statement, “We do this for,” and then there was a dash and something else. I followed that template and created my hypothesis.

Another important thing you were telling me was, “Don’t prod the answers. Don’t suggest. Let them give the answer.” The hardest part during the interview was to shut up and let the customer or the interviewee talk. Those interviews were the ones that told me that this probably is a good idea, but then there’s another need that people are still waiting for.

Sometimes, the hardest part during an interview is to just shut up and let the customer or the interviewee talk. Click To Tweet

I remember a couple of conversations at least where the last thing that the person I was interviewing said was, “That sounds like a million-dollar idea.” In my mind, I thought, “I hope tens of millions.” That was validation of the fact that people who are in my industry who are in similar roles to me are thinking about the same problems that I have thought about, and they don’t have any solutions for it. Will they pay for it at that time? They did say they would, but you can’t take their word to be the truth at that time because some of them may not even be the decision makers although they’re influencers.

Small companies’ CEOs have to be convinced that this is a good value for the money, but now, we have crossed that path. Sitting here, I can’t tell how we got to this point. It has been on the shoulders of a lot of other people like you who have been CEOs of small companies who have given me 2 to 3 hours of their time without any reason, just believing in my idea, “Tell me what you want.”

I applied to YC. I didn’t make it there, but then people from YC are still in touch with me. One of them, for no reason, reached out to me and gave me a lesson on how to do email marketing. Until then, we were not doing any of that at all. All those things have had a role in how we got here. That’s a thought that came to my mind that was important that I thought I would share.

That’s a good anecdote. That’s a testament and a validation. We all read about these approaches, especially in books like The Lean Startup. Eric Ries and others have promoted this topic and the idea heavily. When Google and other companies want to launch a new product, they always test it. They always go out and see if it’s viable or not. The reason I wanted you to share your story is a validation.

It’s not something that people do only in the big companies. It’s more important for founders to do it in early-stage and smaller companies because there are a lot of stories where founders have invested 3, 6, to 12 months or even 1 to 2 years. At the end of two years, they have nothing to show because they went about building the product based on what they were thinking versus going and talking to the customers and seeing if it’s a valid idea or not.

The process has made me a lot humbler in the sense that when you’re saying that, I’m thinking about all those founders who put their heart and soul into it. You believe the idea. You go after it. You build it. It’s important to make sure that you validate your idea. Plus, some of it has to do with a little bit of luck, timing, and things like that. I have an immense understanding or feeling that those who didn’t make it were not fools. That’s one of the biggest learnings I believe from the process.

There have been so many ups and downs where in the morning, I’m thinking of something. In the evening, I’m thinking something else. Six months down, I’m like, “Maybe I should wrap up.” Suddenly things pick up and happen. This process has taught me that I’m here probably on their shoulders and those who did not make it were not fools.

Those are truly humbling and inspiring words for sure. We’re switching gears here. With every guest of mine and whoever comes on the show, we always go deeper into a go-to-market success story and a go-to-market failure story. Specifically in your case, I was thinking it would be a good insight sharing for the audience if you could walk us through how you landed that first customer, all the challenges that you had to go through, and the disbelief, “Is this the right thing? Am I doing the right thing?” You eventually got that first check. Walk us through that process.

When I initially imagined this idea in my mind with no coding experience, my brother-in-law who you know well went through four things. His brother is also into programming and all that stuff. They said, “There’s UX. There’s UI. There’s a back end and a front end. You don’t know any of this stuff. Know that’s where you will start. There are better people who have done it many times.” They were coming from the right place in their heart. It was good advice, and I was going against that.

To start with, there were doubts. I’m trying to code. I would ask everybody who walked into my house, “Are you a back-end guy or a front-end?” That’s all I knew. Some of them would say, “I’m a back end.” I was like, “Let me talk to you later.” That’s where it started. I hired anybody who would walk into my house while I was learning or trying to build the product.

Trespassers would get a demo. That’s how it was. I give a lot of credit to the initial people around me who never discouraged me although they saw a crappy product in the beginning. When I showed it to my brother-in-law, he was like, “I wouldn’t show this to investors,” instead of saying, “This looks like crap,” which is how it looked like. That’s where it started.

You asked a very deep question. On November 27th, 2020, I had this conversation with Dave Hadden who runs a company called Pro-ficiency. He told me, “Free only takes you so far.” I thought that was very condescending. My ego got hurt. I told him that day that by January 2nd, 2021, if I don’t have this ready, I’m going to quit. I closed the doors from December 16th or 14th onwards for about twenty days. I have two young kids. They were two and a half and one and a half at that time. I told my wife, “I’m not coming out. I’m sorry, but this is it.”

By January 2nd, I built it. I texted him and said, “Dave, the MVP is done.” That’s when I reached back out to the people that I interviewed to talk to them, and one of them said, “That’s not what we want. If you build something for vendor selection, that’s where I want to use it. February 15th is when I want to send it out.” That gave me a month and a half. Here I was coding. This is the second round of coding for a month and a half to build a completely new product. I never believed that I would build it. I did not.

I thought that I would probably get somewhere in the middle and get somebody to help me or hire a programmer, but things happened such that I got to that point. Every week, I would show the progress to this first customer of mine. Her name is Audrey. She would say, “This looks great.” For me, it didn’t make any sense. I kept building, and she kept saying, “This is great.” Initially, we had people enter data into the cloud. Now, everything is automated.

Let’s take one step back. How did you find and get Audrey to sign up? That’s a critical point.

Audrey was one of the people that I interviewed in June 2020. I interviewed her. She was one of the nicest people. She answered a lot of questions for me. I had all the questions lined up, and she answered all the questions for me. She was one of the ones who ended up saying, “That sounds like a million-dollar idea.” I had no idea who she was. I opened LinkedIn. I searched for clinical operations professionals. I sent a message to whoever showed up. She had these fireside chats. Once I knew her, I started getting to talk to her a little bit and participate in anything that she would do.

That’s how I found her, and that’s how we kept in touch. I said, “I built something.” From June to December, I don’t think we talked. In December, I talked to her and said, “I might have something ready for you that I want to show you.” When I showed it to her, that’s when she said, “That’s not what I want. I want this.” That’s what I built. I told her, “If I build it, will you use it?” She was like, “I’ll use it if you want to cut down my analysis time by 80%.” That’s what she thought it would do, and I built it. I started building it.

On February 14th, Valentine’s Day, or the day before, I was showing this to my family. Some of them were like, “This doesn’t look very good.” The day before the product release too, they gave me so many improvements that I did overnight. We released it the next day. When I released it, I caught this because the vendors had to put their data in. At 7:00 PST, I released it. At 7:19, I got a call from one of the biggest vendors who was invited through that platform telling me, “What are you doing? Why are you increasing the amount of work? You’re asking me to enter all this on your platform. Why would I do that?”

He gave it to me left and right. He put the phone down. I texted my first customer and told her, “This guy is going to call you. Can you handle it?” When she talked to the vendor who was supposed to enter his data, he said, “This is a lot of work.” She said, “Does it seem like a lot of work? That’s okay. You don’t have to bid.” That’s exactly what she told him.

He called me back, and we figured out a way. We wanted to meet the vendor beyond halfway. We created a method for him where he can upload the data pretty quickly. Another significant lesson was you have to add value to both sides. You can’t add value to one side and ignore the others. That’s how I found my first customer, built the platform for that customer, and released it, the initial feedback that we caught, and learned lessons from it. We immediately identified the big holes in the platform.

B2B 52 | Clin.AI
Clin.AI: You have to add value to both sides. You can’t add value to one side and ignore the others.

 

Was it a paid pilot or a free pilot?

Free pilot. I wasn’t even thinking of money at that time.

At what point in time did Audrey decide to pay?

We did our first one and then had a second one. They immediately had another requirement. That’s why I say timing. They had another requirement, and then they went through the platform again. Once they went through a platform for the second time when they were at the tail end of it, that’s when I had that meeting with another small company’s CEO who was introduced to me by a mutual friend. He was least interested in the presentation. He was like, “Did you get paid?” That was his question. That night, I wrote this thing. I got paid on July 30th, which is a day before my birthday. I thought I had forgotten, but it looks like things are fresh in my mind still.

That was your first customer who cut your check.

It was Audrey. It was the same company. They did another vendor selection. The vendor selections take 3 or 4 months. We did the first one starting in February. In March and April, they had another one come up. They did that one. We got into May. May is when I floated the idea of getting paid. June is when they approved it, and then it takes 30 days to get paid. On July 30th, we got paid.

That was a 3 or 4-figure ACV at that point in time.

4 or 5.

Earlier, you mentioned that you are at possibly a six-figure ACV.

Our Annual Contract Value per customer is more than six figures. What I was alluding to before was getting to a revenue per year of seven figures.

That’s a great go-to-market success story. Thank you for unpacking a lot of actionable insights for the audiences here, but as you and I know, it’s not always up and to the right. I’m sure you must have experimented and tried different ways, going to events, sending emails, or doing cold outreach, and things have not worked. What is a go-to-market failure or a three-month experiment that you tried and didn’t work out?

You look for solutions and talk to people, and people suggest solutions. One of the solutions that came up was, “Why don’t you use these marketing companies that can find vendors?”

They’re outbound agencies and cold-calling agencies.

It’s not cold calling but rather people who can email, use LinkedIn for you, and find those clients for you. One of the suggestions came from the CEO of a huge company. There are a lot of people in the industry, but it’s hard to find who does it, especially in the pharma world. It was a challenge even to find them. I found this person who has been in the industry for twenty-plus years. She worked with some huge labs. I invested in that for three months, and I felt that there was nothing coming out of it.

As a founder, when you start a company, you probably have the messaging the best. When you haven’t done something, it’s about experimenting. When a marketing agency starts this, they have to send some emails, see how it goes, send something else, and tweak it. I don’t know if an outside agency has that commitment, or maybe I found the wrong agency to work with, but I found that after three months, I was not hitting any of the goals.

One of the problems that I had was they wanted to put something out there on LinkedIn. They said, “This looks like a nice image. Let’s put it out there.” I remember she posted it on LinkedIn, and I had to remove it. Maybe some of this is my weakness too. I don’t want anything that doesn’t look good because whatever goes out there is representing my company. You don’t want to put something out there so that people will start looking at it or clicking on it.

My point is I don’t think my mindset and this marketing agency’s mindset were aligned because I didn’t want to put whatever comes to my mind out there. It’s not about the number of clicks for me. It’s about quality and messaging correctly. I don’t think they were getting it, and it’s not their fault because it’s me who should have done that job, which I eventually did.

B2B 52 | Clin.AI
Clin.AI: It’s not about the number of clicks. It’s about quality and it’s about messaging correctly.

 

That’s an example of how the LinkedIn strategy or the email strategy didn’t work. I was in analysis paralysis mode for a long time, “What am I going to post on LinkedIn?” I finally started posting on July 10, 2023. In the few weeks that I’ve posted, I’ve at least had three companies reach out to me telling me that they enjoyed the way I’m using my personal expertise because I’ve worked on the sponsor side, and now I’ve become a vendor. They have enjoyed seeing the push, and they’re very authentic.

It’s early days, but whatever feedback you get is valuable in the early days. I’ve been encouraged by that. What results does it generate? We will have to wait and see. There are a couple of good leads that have come through, but we will have to wait and see if they turn into anything. I feel like at least I’ve found my voice on LinkedIn. Something didn’t work. There are a lot of other things than LinkedIn, but at least I figured out my voice of what I’m going to say on LinkedIn about my company, which I don’t think a marketing agency can do for you.

That’s a critical lesson. Typically, once a founder has found a playbook for a go-to-market, outbound, social media, or SEO, then they can delegate and offload from the data responsibly, but you cannot offload something that you have not figured out and expect an outsider to.

You asked me for one failure, but too many failures are coming to my mind, including salespeople that I’ve hired. Somebody gave me the same advice that you’re saying. When I was hiring the salesperson, they said, “Do you have a repeatable sales process that you can give this salesperson?” Initially, my thought process was, “Salespeople are motivated enough that they will sell because they’re going to make money out of it. That should be motivation enough,” but what I’ve realized is it’s a lot more than that. There are no clear instructions about how to go about the process with eyes closed where you have Step 1, Step 2, Step 3, and Step 4 clearly defined. The wheels will be spinning, and they will be in the same place. It’s not their fault. It’s the founder’s fault that they did not put the procedures in place.

Kudos to you. By training, you are an engineer. You were on the technical side of things, but given how passionate you were in this problem space and how passionate you were about solving the clinical trial gap and the automation piece that was missing, you took it upon yourself to learn, first of all, doing customer discovery, validation, and sales. You’re putting yourself out on LinkedIn and finding your voice. The biggest takeaway and message is if you’re committed, passionate, and persistent, there will be challenges, failures, and a lot of areas where you have no experience, no confidence, and no belief, but if you’re out there for a long duration, you will figure it out, and things will align.

That’s one lesson that I’ve learned. My mind always goes back and says, “Why couldn’t you do this one year back? Why couldn’t you start posting on LinkedIn? Maybe you could add a couple of more customers or a few more of whatever it is.” Things happen at a time. That’s one thing, but the other thing is the biggest lesson that I have from that is to try. It may be right, wrong, or whatever it is.

There are so many different channels for identifying your potential customers, and you may try one because you’re comfortable with it. That’s one area that I still feel like I’m behind where I don’t try because of fear of failure or because I don’t know the area well enough, fear of it not working, or fear of what people are going to think if they look at a certain email a certain way.

Something that I have learned is I’m not that important. There’s so much going on out there. I don’t think people care if I put a bad LinkedIn post out there or send an email unless it’s a horrible email, which I’m hoping I don’t send out. If it’s average, you will get a chance to improve. People won’t remember your average email and hold it against you. At least, that’s my belief. If it turns out not to be the case, I’ll learn. At least, that’s what I’m still trying to tell myself every day. I’m still learning. I’m not even close to accepting my weaknesses or faults yet.

Bring it home. We are almost close to the finish line. What advice would you give to your younger self? You did mention that. I’m pretty sure you’re going to echo it and re-emphasize it, but I would love to hear it from your words.

The one thing is you don’t know where you can go unless you start. That’s one. I had never in my life thought that I would build an application. I have a team, but when I started, I was building this application. You never know where you can go. You get your feet wet and then figure it out. If it’s not for you, you will find out. I’m going back to the same theme. Although as daunting as it is, it’s important to give it a try. The worst that can happen is that you will fail. I don’t think it will take that much time for you to realize that this is not working. You have to back yourself to do that.

For example, in go-to-market, there are so many ways to find your customers. At least in my case, I didn’t try a lot of those because I wasn’t comfortable with them. It’s getting comfortable, getting started, not worrying about what the result is going to be, not being afraid of what people are going to think about it, and thinking about whether I’m going to get a customer with this or not.

As long as it’s not hurting somebody and as long as I’m being true to myself and putting a message out there that I believe will resonate, that’s a good start. If it doesn’t resonate, you will find out pretty quickly, and then you can change. If it still doesn’t work, then you will change. If it still doesn’t work, then maybe that’s a bad idea, and you move on to the next one.

As long as it's not hurting somebody and you're being true to yourself and putting out a message out there that you believe will resonate, that's a good start. Click To Tweet

Let’s end this on a high note. I loved the conversation. Good luck to you, Kalyan, and Clin.AI.

I appreciate the time that you took for this episode. I know a lot of work goes into it. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Since the time we talked, I kept texting you the updates even when I got the Vice interview and all that stuff. You’ve always been a sounding board for me to run ideas by and also give me advice because I don’t read books. I rely on people like you who read the books and then give the significant points from it. Thanks for your help. I enjoyed this discussion. I’m looking forward to where this company takes me.

Thanks once again and good luck.

 

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