B2B 50 | Factors.ai

B2B 50 | Factors.ai

 

No one arrives at being a founder without having the experiences that helped shape them. For Srikrishna Swaminathan, being the co-founder and CEO of India-based startup, Factors.ai, is a product of a rich career journey. In this episode, he joins Vijay Damojipurapu to share his story—from starting with FMCG sales to investment banking and eventually landing at InMobi, where he found his entrepreneurial spirit. He shares valuable lessons he learned from each phase, highlighting the importance of understanding customer needs, mastering time management, and gaining financial insights. Srikrishna also reflects on his time at InMobi and how it equipped him to found Factors.ai, a company that specializes in helping B2B marketing teams drive more revenue. He dives deep into Factors.ai’s unique Product-Led Growth (PLG) approach and also shares success stories with mid-market and SMBs and insights into early-stage go-to-market strategies. Srikrishna then rounds out the conversation by emphasizing the importance for founders to have a clear vision, which eventually spreads out to the company and leads them to success.

Listen to the podcast here


 

From FMCG Sales To Factors.ai: Go-To-Market Lessons With Srikrishna Swaminathan

I have the pleasure of having Srikrishna Swaminathan, who is the Founder and CEO of India-based startup, Factors.ai. Welcome to the show, Srikrishna. I’m happy to have you here.

I’m very happy to be here, and thanks a lot for making time to talk to me.

It’s my pleasure. Let’s go right into the meat of the conversation. How do you view and define go-to-market?

Fundamentally, go-to-market is you have to know based on your company, what you are trying to sell, who you are trying to sell, and the stage of your resources. For example, a company with a very large amount of resources, a company that is funded, or a company to bootstrap the go-to-market strategy or how you define go-to-market changes very differently.

At the crux of all those things, how do you approach your customers? How do you interact with them? How do you showcase to them that you exist? This is a value you provide, and how you convert it into the sales funnel is what fundamentally defines go-to-market for us. While this is a broad definition, the nuances and the tweaks around it are based on your segment, who you are selling to, your ACV, your stage of the company, and your resources across the board.

Maturity levels as a company also because a company with a three-year-old life would be very different from a company with a ten-year-old life. How even they approach a go-to-market and how in terms of who does the selling, who doesn’t do the selling, and who activates that. For example, for early-stage startups, it’s founder-led and that is a very different go-to-market than, let’s say, when the team comes in, when people come in, when processes set, and those things. It’s very different from how the company will change it.

I like the aspect where you emphasized a lot about the resource constraints and what stage of the company that you are in. Typically, I hear that characterized or mentioned by founders where I have founders on my show. They’re the ones who would mostly focus on that versus if it’s a guest who is either a marketing leader product or a revenue leader at a more mature company. They would focus more on the alignment between product, marketing, sales, and customer success. I know you are implicitly referring to that alignment as well, but I appreciate you focusing on the stage of the company and where you are or where your mindset comes to making the best use of your resources.

That’s a very good point, what you mentioned. It’s not that we don’t look for alignment. We don’t look for how multiple teams come together from a go-to-market. Once you’re selling a product, once you have something in place, you know who you target. Everything else needs to come together because otherwise, you won’t make yourself aware to the market, which is marketing.

Once you make them aware, you have to bring them into your sales funnel, which is there, which is a part of sales, part of performance, or demand capture, which is there. Once you bring them into the funnel, the customer success, the onboarding, and the product teams, everything also needs to work with a feedback loop running around this. I’m not taking away from that. The key thing here across the board is also that one aspect is very clearly resources.

You might have a $10 million funding versus you are a $3 million funding versus you just started up, etc., all those things. The second aspect is maturity. For example, I have seen the same go-to-market being approached very differently by second-time founders than approached by first-time founders. I have seen this evolve very differently from a company, which is one year old. They might still have the product they would have been selling. They would have 100 customers, etc., compared to a company that is 3 or 4 years old and how they approach that. That is a very soft aspect of things but it makes a huge difference in how things get executed, which people get to play, how people are recruited, and employee satisfaction. Many other things come into play here.

The point you mentioned reminds me of or surfaces for me where there are different nuances even among founders, the type of technology, and the product. There are founders who are very comfortable in building in public right from the early days. There are founders who are so engrossed in “stealth mode” which has been like you need to rewind 5 or 10 years ago for that concept. Building stealth mode for 1 to 3 years and then in year 4, you realize, “I wasted all my resources and I need to shut down my company.” That’s been less of a norm of late.

To your point, building in public versus stealth also depends on the technology, the product, the IP around what you have, and so on. Let’s switch gears. Let’s go to the big picture and focus on your life and career. Why don’t you describe or quickly narrate what has been your career journey so far and what led you to what you’re doing now?

I’ve been very lucky. I was born late. My parents were almost 50 when I was born. I was born in Chennai and spent my schooling in Chennai. I came to Bangalore for higher education, undergrad, and Electrical Engineering. I spent a couple of years coding, but then realized I have a heart for management. I got into one of the B schools in India called IIM in Calcutta. I spent two years there. After that, I jumped into the FMCG world. I spent a good part of two years in almost rural villages and towns across Andhra, Kerala, Orissa, and also Western UP. That’s where I spent a lot of time learning. Being on the field, sales and marketing is a very different experience and that’s something that taught me a lot.

It also gave me a lot more maturity at 23 or 24 years old. I came back to Bangalore, got married, and joined a banking startup, an Eastern banking firm. From there, I moved into another startup then called InMobi. InMobi was one of the first unicorns in India. They had raised the large fundraise from Softbank and Softbank was not a well-known entity at that point in time.

Unicorns were even more rare in India. Companies like startups, 3 or 4 years old, becoming a $1 billion valuation was a very big thing at that point in time. I was a little bored with banking, but I was also thinking, “If I have to make something big, a splash, or have an interesting life, I have to be in a place where action is.”

InMobi was one of the few startups where both from a cultural aspect and a large market aspect, it showed great promise. I started with business development and sales within InMobi. Over a period of time, I started up and built a very large P&L business unit also within InMobi called Affiliate Business, the whole affiliate and exchange business, $100 million P&L. Thankfully, with InMobi, I found my Cofounder, Praveen Das, who was part of the product team. Both of us overlapped for seven years at InMobi.

My third Cofounder is Aravind, who’s my friend from college days. He was my college classmate. He was at Google. Later, he sold his first startup to Freshworks, and we all got together to attack the problem around account intelligence, ABM marketing, and how to identify, activate, and attribute marketing around B2B companies.

That’s from our experiences both at Freshworks and InMobi. This is something which we found as a white space and we jumped in and started up. We were lucky both in terms of funding. It was pre-pandemic so the funding space was also pretty good. We also took another small round of funding and now, we are growing pretty rapidly at 160-plus customers. We are doing pretty well.

In hindsight, will you be able to connect the dots and figure out what are those experiences that led you to what you’re doing now? If I had to dig in maybe from your time when you were at Dabur, right after your MBA, clearly being in the field being the fast-moving consumer goods, that helped. What were your takeaways from that experience being at Dabur?

One thing is it exposes you to the actual on-field sales. If you are in an FMCG sales company and if you are in a beat sales mode, for example, there are multiple geographies as well. You can look at, let’s say, Dubai or any other larger markets or even city-led urban markets and all those things. Most of the sales happen through modern trade where there is bulk buying, discounting, and then you also give pricing features, etc.

When you are on a company like Dabur, which is predominantly a very good rural portfolio in Ayurvedic items, which are there apart from Josephs and a couple of others, it’s a rural-oriented company in terms of what they sell. Second, it’s also more of a poor rural-oriented company, which, compared to India, is pretty widescale.

That is a huge difference between Western India and Southern India in terms of how urbanization hits, how per capita income hits compared to other countries or other states, and all those things. Per capita income is much lower, which is that. When you are thrown into the middle of one rural area and also in terms of how you need to activate your sales items there, how do you need to penetrate those markets? How do you need to price your markets very well? Also, understand the psyche of people on what they are looking for. A ₹10 or ₹1 change would be a huge difference for them. ₹1 is a little more than a cent.

That’s some experience that, at 23 years old, was a very different experience to have. It teaches you how lucky you are and how privileged you are. It teaches you a raw sense of scale in terms of there being so many villages to cater to. You have to be present in every village, but the output quantum from each village would be much smaller.

It teaches you a lot of frugality. It also helps you teach planning. For example, you have eight hours in a day and one of the first things which you are put through as a sales trainee in these companies is you have to take a bus in the morning, go all the way to each and every village, sell at least ₹10,000 of items and then come back.

This means you have to be on time for the bus. Once you are there, you have to be on time when the market opens. You have to finish your job fast, then move to the next village. Many things can go wrong. I’ve seen floods. I’ve seen some political leaders dying and closing down because of that. There are some districts where you can’t go on certain days, where there are black days and other things. All this helps you. Also, you can see something like each and everything for you to make the product work. You have to find the right assortment of goods so that you can make your target.

That is an experience for an early management trainee. You can take that away into each and everything, whether it comes through product-like growth, how you price your product later, how you distribute the product, how you manage your costs and efficiency around it. How do you discipline your own life in terms of how time matters?

For example, you can’t sell for anything beyond 6:00 in certain markets because 1) There won’t be any electricity. 2) The market also shuts down. You have to leave before 6:30 in the morning, and if you don’t get up and do it, the buses will leave. There is only 1 bus every 2 hours. All these things were an amazing experience for me and personally, it transformed me a lot. I’m happy for it.

All the insights and the lessons and learnings that you mentioned, which are humility, working with discipline, and resource constraint, all of these things made you the Founder that you are now at Factors.ai. Switching gears, so you were at Dabur and then you moved into investment banking. What is the driver behind that?

I had interned in an investment bank during my MBDs. When I graduated in 2009, none of the banks were hiring and nobody was doing anything. FMCG companies were the only ones that were hiring a little bit. Thankfully, I entered the FMCG line, but I wanted to get married and my wife was in Bangalore. I had to move back to Bangalore because being in an FMCG role traveling five days a week might not have made sense for her to come and for her to move back. I had to move back to Bangalore. A couple of friends were working at Mission Bank in Bangalore, which was a pretty good firm.

Allegro Capital was there. They used to work with pharma and a lot of healthcare hospital firms. That’s what they were doing. I got into investment banking. It was a two-year experience. I also did one of the first deals with the startup at that point in time over a period of two years. It’s a very different experience both around numbers and in terms of from a financial services perspective. How you look at clients, how you solve client requirements, how you need to be on the toes at each and every point, and how you can make some mistakes, etc. As with any junior associate or someone there, I learned through mistakes and it was a great experience, but one thing I saw there is direct business-to-business pitching.

FMCG sales are very different. You have a product that has a brand. You also know someone would need a toothpaste. It may not be like whether it’s someone who’s going to buy a ₹5 toothpaste or a ₹10 toothpaste, but he’s going to buy something. As long as you can come as somewhat like you have a brand behind you and you have a trustworthy name behind you and you can give credit, you’ll be able to sell it.

B2B 50 | Factors.ai
Factors.ai: As long as you have a brand behind you, a trustworthy name behind you, and you can give credit to it, you’ll be able to sell.

 

A ₹10 item to a ₹100 item, anyone can sell. It’s either now or tomorrow, the item is going to get sold. Investment banking or even B2B sales at a very different level is much different. You have to make the need happen. You have to understand when is the right time to nudge or push them into the conversation.

Everyone, and especially anyone who raise funds or mergers and acquisitions, it’s high stakes. It’s something like that life’s work getting into a certain value. There is a cash payout. There is always a doubt whether it’s an opportunity cost or I’m missing out on something bigger and other things. Managing all these emotions, nudging, and also getting people around multiple stakeholder games where different age groups or sets of priorities, everything comes into place. That was a great experience, which I got from that as well.

One great aspect is I got to work with some of the founders who were college seniors running an eCommerce logistics company at that time, delivery. They were running out of cash and they wanted to raise their Series A. I helped them through that. Around that time, I figured out startup was the place I had to go. I have to be there. Incidentally, that company from a Series A at somewhere around a $20 million valuation. Now they listed and become a public company at almost more than $4.5 billion valuation. Great experiences, but that also made me move to InMobi at that point in time.

I was going to InMobi, and that’s where you found your cofounders as well. It looks like InMobi is a place where you also find what problem to tackle. Why don’t you talk to us about your experience in InMobi that shaped you to be the founder that you are now?

If I had the chance, out of college, I wouldn’t have wasted 2 years of coding, 2 years of MBA, and then a couple of years between banking, and 8 years across multiple places into learning work and getting maturity. I would’ve said that anyone should first go and work in a startup. The quality of the work is amazing. You might be dealing with smaller sizes and different kinds of problems but you can jump into anything and find something to do and shine there and solve or fix problems, then move on to something and learn something from that in a startup.

A mature startup gives you a little more safety. They also will pay you good salaries. At the same time, you also have a team and you have more problems to solve because scale breeds scale. You’re still agile from a mental standpoint. I would advise anyone to work in a startup at any point in time. InMobi was one of the growing startups in India.

There was the pride of being the first unicorn, which was coming out and we have to at least go big into this thing, most importantly, since it was a mobile ad tech company. It was fundamentally a company that used to run mobile ads for customers. There should be advertisers on one side and publishers on the other side. It was like gaming companies, news apps, etc.

Advertisers used to be eCommerce companies. You could see both sides of the ecosystem growing. For example, there were gaming apps, publisher apps, and other apps that were startups on one side. There were also eCommerce startups, which were right from Flipkart, Myntra, and others who are trying to grow their business in terms of app downloads, conversions, and others happening.

You are seeing the whole digital transformation in India as well. The geo moment in 2016 when Rilancio came into the place, and then there was the whole transition in 2013 and 2014 into the Android smartphone era. Also, the rapid growth and scale-up in terms of funding, which is coming into India. Many other new companies starting to grow within this thing. You were able to see business models being made right in front of your eyes. That was the InMobi experience.

In my capacity, I was lucky that I started with sales. During sales, I found a gap and opportunity in the market, saying that affiliate businesses that are growing where it’s not direct advertiser to publish a connection, but that is the intermediary business, which could also be rapidly scalable. This is something that I pitched internally to the InMobi founders. They let me start up the internal group and build that business unit fully.

I started from zero and it went all the way up to a $100 million-plus business. It was one of the most profitable units within InMobi. One that gave me good exposure in terms of management, building your team, and building your own internal startup, but within the umbrella of a company that was there. Also, there is recognition within the company where you can go and meet a lot more people. You can get to talk to a lot of people, etc. That helped in multiple ways. It gave me safety and comfort. It also gave me a good name. It also helped me find my cofounders, etc. Unforgettable experience. InMobi was such a good place for me and I’m always grateful for and obliged for that.

It sounds like even though on the surface, on paper, it sounds like Factors.ai is your first startup, but you’re like a second-time founder. You’re not a first-time founder, given that you started a business in InMobi.

It was more or less like that because, in InMobi, I was given a brief. I have to either do $5 million or I wouldn’t be doing that. I have to do something else. That was an up-and-out situation and it put good pressure and other things. Most importantly, when you work through a situation where it’s a young company, it’s also a startup and you see so many business models built around you, the natural itch towards something like you have to build something on your own comes.

When that comes onwards and you’re also in a company that is growing in agile and a lot of smart people are around you, you also start looking for problems that you see. Two things. 1) You can also solve for it as a company, as InMobi, trying to solve for it and then build a business around it. 2) You would also look for problems like if this thing need not be solved by InMobi, can I build a company to solve it?

If InMobi or Freshwork faces this problem, then can this problem be something that we can extrapolate through induction for thousands of other companies, solve the problem and can we make monetary gains around that? That’s the fundamental itch around any startup game. You identify a problem, you feel that you are personally hurt by it, and try to understand and figure out whether it’s going to be something that is a business or something like a service. Is it going to be a short-term pain, a vitamin, or a painkiller situation? You gather around people to go and solve it if you find it good. That’s what ended up happening with our own journey.

I would like to note we are switching gears a bit over here. You were at Dabur FMCG. You were an investment banker to some extent and then you were at InMobi and now, your own startup founder. How would your family members and friends describe you? Do they know what you’re doing and how would they describe you to others?

As I mentioned, my parents were a little old. As long as I was coming up to college and getting a job, they were pretty happy. They weren’t sure what I was doing at any point in time. They were traditionally asking am I happy? Am I healthy? I remember my father talking about this thing. He’s from a much older generation. What he understood very well was my FMCG world. That’s something that he understood. You make something, sell it, and profit out of it. All the companies that I worked on after that didn’t make any sense to them. Banking was like, “Why should they approach you? Why can’t they talk directly to the investors? What are you doing in the middle?”

InMobi was looking fancy. Also, as he came in, he was saying, “What are you guys doing?” Essentially, he wasn’t able to understand the mobile ads ecosystem, monetization, etc. My startup, he also keeps asking, “Are you guys profitable? When are you guys going to be profitable? When do you have to return your loans, which you have taken from your investors?” He doesn’t understand this thing, but they are confident that I’m working in a team, employing a lot of people around me, and doing something that looks respectable and clean. That’s what they’re happy with.

My wife, on the other hand, is an engineer at Microsoft. She understands a lot of the tech. She sometimes asks, “Is this good? Are you guys bending the limits in terms of engineering?” On her scale, when she’s at the ChatGPT team versus what we do, the scales are very different. It’s also a good perspective that you get at home and can also share it.

What you mentioned as to how your family, especially your father, described and saw you and your transition versus your wife. There’s a generation gap and understanding of the different and evolving business models. It shows how quickly our industry is moving and the different types of monetization in business models. Switching gears here, let’s get into more of Factors.ai, the growth, and the go-to-market. Where are you at? You don’t need to share confidential information, but you mentioned you’re growing rapidly. Where are you at in terms of the number of employees, revenue, and customers with Factors.ai now?

We’re at 45-plus employees. I wouldn’t be able to share the revenue numbers, but we are at 160 customers as we speak. We are adding almost our customers every day, which we are working on. It’s been pretty rapid growth where we moved from 30 customers all the way up to 160 customers now. From 35 customers to 160. We have raised funding as well both at a seed level and a pre-series A level. We have wonderful investors in the form of Elevation Capital, Emergent Ventures, and Stellaris. All Elevation and Emergent are US-based while Stellaris is an India-based fund.

That’s a testament to how good your founding team is, the problem that you’re tackling, and the confidence of the investors. These are top-tier investors who have invested in your company. I’m looking at your website. You’ve gone the PLG route. You have offered a free trial and then your pricing is all the way from $0 to $99, $499, and then the professional. How did you arrive at this? You must have mentioned, gone behind, or talked to a lot of your prospects and customers. Walk us through that process.

To start with, we are never PLG. We never had a free forever plan. We never even had a $99 plan. Our base plans started with $499. We had experimented with something, but at the minimum level, we were selling at $799 on a monthly basis. What changed is one thing. You want to expand your market and there are two ways to expand your market. One is you can go more and more enterprise. You start by saying that $800 a month and become more of a $25,000 or $50,000 annual. Very large enterprises are there, which is one thing or you go on the other side where you see the problem which you’re doing has a huge benefit in the mid-tier to SME market, which is very large.

With the pricing, how you bring in the value props, which you offer, time to value, which you have in terms of the thing, all of these things change. We found a large value in more of the bottom. We were able to take on that use case and for that, we tweaked both the product and the pricing. What you see is the outcome of that.

Now, almost every day, 5 to 10 people sign up for our product. They start immediately with a free trial. At the end of the free trial, we give them options. Either you can go into a paid plan with customer success and other features or you can remain in the free forever plan, which is also there. We have people also constantly ping us through either Intercom or through our Slack channel support saying, “I’ve seen this. This is all good. Can I sign up for a plan? This is what I want to remain here. This is what I want to use.”

People are referring to us customers. A lot of things are happening and that’s where we have found the growth momentum as well for us to say that you start slow and you start with a certain good funnel where you let people experiment with the product. Let people see value in the product. Once they do that, it’s far easier for us to sell and build on top of that.

That is an upsell journey, also. That is a very clear upsell methodology where we say, “You add these things on top, then it becomes easier. If you want to do a lot more, then you have to expand your pricing plan. That’s something that we have built into the product. The most important lesson within this is never to be green. Respect customers’ need for value. These are two different things.

This is something that everyone professes. Look at what value you are driving to them. You have to always pitch for a higher value or if you have spent or if you have done something of so much value, you have to push for a higher rating. I feel the reverse where if you can show value to them by helping them easily enter into your product, see the value, and recognize the value, then you make a customer and have a lot more time to prove to them. That’s one thing.

If you can show people value, then you make a customer and you have a lot more time to prove to them. Click To Tweet

Second is also the ability to see value in terms of ROI. Once that is there and once that confidence is there, they’ll get like, “This is a no-brainer deal for me.” Once a no-brainer deal comes for you, once you add other things on top of it where you say that this extended feature gives you this, you have to pay so much more for this thing, they are far more willing to pay for it. It’s not a question on the mind. They don’t treat you as a salesperson or a vendor who’s asking for this thing. They treat you more as a partner saying, “He has delivered value for me, hence, accepting his recommendations and this thing and adding on top of it is going to be easier for me.

For the benefit of the readers, who is your ICP and what is the problem that you’re solving? How is that problem defined? How did that evolve since day one?

Fundamentally, we serve for B2B and SaaS companies. Any company selling to other businesses or SaaS companies are companies that are fundamentally selling to other business software companies, other manufacturing companies, any healthcare firms, etc., is our direct target. Within these companies, our ideal customer profile is companies that have less than 500 employees.

We look at companies that are more ideally less than $100 million in revenue because, at that stage, a product like ours would make sense. Spending with product market fit or spending early on ads. It’s either ads or they should have a website at least running. It shouldn’t be a company where it’s in stealth mode where the founder is trying to have a dashboard and trying to sell with a service plus a product mode. That doesn’t work.

The product founder has moved beyond the ten design partners and now starting to sell to unknown companies. That’s where a product like ours makes sense to the level where it becomes, let’s say, a $100, $150 million company where there is a certain established marketing team and there is a sales marketing team. A buyer journey needs the ability to identify accounts and convert from marketing to revenue. That’s a use case.

We have exceptions on both sides. We have very early-stage companies also working with that. At the other end, we have multiple listed companies and enterprises that are also working with us. I would say more than the size of companies and ICPs, the use case that you solve for is what makes the difference. The fundamental use case, which we solve for and what we propose to our companies is you work with us, we’d be able to increase your pipeline by 20% to 25% within the first three months.

More than the size of companies and ICPs, the use case that you solve for is what makes the difference. Click To Tweet

How this happens is by providing them with account intelligence. In B2B companies, the unique thing that happens is nobody randomly visits the website. It’s not an entertainment website. It’s not CNN. Anyone who’s coming and visiting your website and reading your blog or your resources is someone who’s keen on the problem you solve or has a problem and he’s looking for a solution based on what he’s looking at.

He doesn’t look for the joy of reading a blog on, let’s say, account-based marketing. That’s one thing. The second thing in B2B and specifically increasingly across the board in B2B, including whether you see legal services, software, or manufacturing, so many things, the website is becoming the most critical point of any buyer’s joint.

Every digital company is not an afterthought like, “I have a website. I also do sales.” Website is the fundamental way where you have the branding, where you pull in customers. Nobody’s going to buy your product without coming to your website. What we do is use this as the fulcrum and bring in data from multiple first-party, second-party, and third-party sources. We bring in data from your CRM.

We bring in data from your marketing automation email systems. We have your website data. We bring in data from your channels or your review sites, etc. We integrate all this data, and build an account score to say, “These are the accounts that are intent on buying your product.” There might be hundreds of visitors or thousands of visitors on your website. These sets of accounts are the ones that have a high intent on buying from you. That’s one thing.

Second, how do you activate them? You can run campaigns for them, send emails to them, send a gift card to them, or send a cold call to them. You can do all these things and then bring them back into the funnel and convert more companies. Why this fundamentally helps generate revenue list, sales, and marketing are both on focus. That is marketing. You want to spend only on things and channels that are converting.

They want to focus on which accounts can immediately convert to a pipeline rather than someone who is just a window shopper. We solve both of these in a single platform to say that I help sales teams go after accounts that matter. I help marketing teams to go after campaigns and channels that bring in these accounts. We bring both of those together.

The problem that you’re trying to solve for the marketers and sales team is about intent and buyer resolution to a large extent. There’s also an overlap with the ABM tech stack, like the 6Sense and Demandbase. How are you different from them?

6Sense, Demandbase, and multiple other ABM platforms are fantastic products in the first place. They were built for a different era. Both of them are more than ten years old. What that fundamental proposition at that point in time is like that is Google display ads. You have a list of accounts. Give me the list of accounts. I will use LiveRamp, Bombora, Intent, and a few other databases, and show ads on the general display, which is there.

The users would eventually see your ad. Let’s say IBM is showing an ad and they have a white paper. Download the white paper and they’ll come to your website. That is a lead generation, which happens, and the sales team goes after the lead generation. This is built for companies that are generally enterprises, very large companies, large deals, and most importantly, where marketing and sales work in silos.

That is where you run display ads and then you have the sales team going after leads and conferences or direct in-person meetings and other things. What we are looking at is the democratizing of ABM. A large ABM platform makes a lot of sense for enterprises. What about mid-market to SMBs, which also want to do the B2B market?

For example, if an ad agency wants to bring in customers, he’s not going to go into the club or go somewhere to a conference and expect customers. He’s going to run ads or run small-scale ads, Google search ads, or a LinkedIn ad. He’s going to do a post. He’s going to do content that is going to be SEO optimized to bring in customers or bring in customers to the page.

It’s the same thing with, let’s say, a small-scale SaaS company or a startup trying to build this business around or even a small IT services company trying to build for mobile app development or something of that sort. All these companies are selling to business. They need an ABM-to-ABM model and they can’t afford to spend on a large platform and an enterprise, only a lead generation model. They want to work on systems which is there. That’s one thing that has changed over a period of time.

The second thing is the whole process of selling and marketing as well. Do you spend on multiple channels? No. The sales and marketing loop is very closely integrated. It’s not something like the marketing teams work on product content material and product marketing material, and the sales team goes and converts the accounts and other things.

Both of them are integrated where the product does search ads, LinkedIn ads, and other things. Immediately, the signup happens. People go through your product or even take a demo of the product, and then they sign up with your system to either use a free trial or talk to your sales guy and then convert immediately.

This close feedback loop is shortening. This is more coming into the way mobile app or B2C customers used to work. That is a B2C verification of B2B in a sense. That is multiple channels are suspended. That is a shorter lifecycle and people want to also test and then improve immediately this thing and there is a constant feedback loop. You need a very different product in terms of how it is built.

For example, in B2C in mobile apps, there used to be companies like Amplitude which used to do attribution. Our vision is to bring that product to the B2B marketing space for a different segment of customers. What we are seeing is the market expanding into a different segment of customers which needs a very different product in terms of the ability to make segments and cohorts of users and then target them, then reach out to them, and then expand revenue. That’s a segment that we play in. We coexist with the likes of larger ABM platforms because every company would also have an enterprise play and a PLG play. We are not set up for an SMB-ish kind of thing. We target the SMB-ish market or a mid-market to SMB market.

B2B 50 | Factors.ai
Factors.ai: The market is expanding into a different set of customers that need a very different kind of product in terms of the ability to make segments and cohorts of users and then target them, reach out to them, and expand revenue.

 

That’s why PLG makes sense for you as a go-to-market motion for sure.

We don’t put our own product.

Switching gears again. Go-to-market has both success and failure stories. You’re seeing both sides of the world, not just for yourself, but even for your customers. If you can share with the readers both a success story and a failure story, that’ll be great.

One is very early in the before PMF was hiring salespeople. We had a good set of youngsters working with us. We set up the email domains, asked them to send email blasts, and worked with them to run emails and those things. It was early before PMF. The product didn’t have the market fit. The market was not fully ready. We were blasting it. People used to come to check out and come into demos. It never used to be a high-intent demo and with the conversion rates, everything falls off the track. That’s one thing. Second, as a mistake, which a lot of people continue to do is cold emails.

There are multiple changes that are happening in the market. One is all email providers are becoming anti-spam and anti-promotion. Most of your emails end up in the promotion tab or in the spam tab, which is there. Second, people themselves don’t read multiple emails. The email open rates, email reply rates, and generally, cold email reply rates and other things are very abysmal.

Still, you have so many people and salespeople swearing by it to send more emails to see whether they’ll get something in the funnel. Earlier, it’s like, “I sent 100 emails. I get two replies. Now I send 500 emails and get maybe 4 replies.” The scale to conversion doesn’t even make sense. With more automation thrown in and more ChatGPT and others, it becomes more like there isn’t any sense in finding together how it’s going to work at all.

On the other hand, the ability to find intent advance and also managing energy. That’s another thing, which is about the same email thing. If a sales guy has to talk to 100 customers or even email 100 customers, he’s never going to personalize. If he’s going to talk to only 20 and knows this 20 can convert better, he’s going to be far more personalized. He has the sense to approach them better. He would also do a LinkedIn connection. He’ll do a messaging. He’ll do a personalized video. He’ll do so many things to make that work.

If these things were in there, people wouldn’t even make that. Hence, knowing who has intent, having a product market fit, and then trying to set up your sales or go-to-market motion to attack this problem is far more energy-efficient and far more remunerative in terms of your growth and other things. The return on effort is amazing. That’s a mistake we made early in our careers. We learned through it. We figured our product fit through our problems in terms of selling.

B2B 50 | Factors.ai
Factors.ai: Knowing who has intent, having a product market fit, and then trying to set up your sales or go-to-market motion to attack this problem is far more energy-efficient and remunerative in terms of growth.

 

We were like, “Why should selling be so difficult for B2B SaaS companies?” Why should it be so difficult for me to do ABM to ABM sell without spending a lot of money on Google display ads or something of that sort? That’s where our product idea also generated. Our GTM mistakes ended up with our product growth.

That’s a classic story of when you are so attached or dialed into a problem, you try to come up with a solution and you are living your problem firsthand and your product became your solution and now, you’re in a better place to market your product to similar personas. That’s a great GTM failure story. How about a success story? It can be either yours or any of your clients.

I remember a second-time cofounder. There are two companies that did this very well. One company, which is Sprinto, which is a SOC-compliance product. Second is RocketLane, which is a customer onboarding software company. Both of these companies were second-time founders. The first one, they thought through. Everyone calls it luck or something, but the ability to time the market is also the founder’s intuition to know what happens.

They were able to come into the market when a lot of software SaaS companies were coming out of India. Data compliance and security compliance became very important. You were having larger trends coming in. They built a similar company and have been able to blitz scale into a growth which was there. That’s something that grew into almost becoming more than $5 million. It’s like a case study that every startup needs to follow. It’s almost in the same time period.

Another company is RocketLane. They started building a community before they had a product. They said, “We are going to solve problems for this set of customers, this profile of customers within this customer onboarding team and customer success team.” They worked backward to say, “Let’s build a community of all the customer success and customer onboarding team.” Once you build a community, bring them together, give them content, talk to them, and have that interactive feedback loop to understand their problems. This fed back into their product.

Once you build the community, bring them together, give them content, talk to them, and have that interactive feedback loop. Click To Tweet

They were able to hit product market fit much faster. Both of these are amazing case studies like, “How do you prepare to get your go-to-market and make this thing work?” That’s good learning for us as well and for the rest of the community. One thing about a startup is to know where you are going to get the direction. Velocity and displacement, everything takes care of it. If you get the direction wrong, a lot of things can go wrong.

The energy that comes to my mind is it’s almost like a golf ball or even a flight path. If you change one degree or there’s an error of one degree early on, that one degree translates to tens of degrees in where you land or where the ball lands. Fantastic. In both cases, it sounds like Factors.ai played a big role in their success.

They are customers of ours. That’s one thing that helps me also understand. I don’t think I would’ve played a role in this thing. They became larger companies when they started using our product. That’s how it worked. Most importantly, we were able to learn from them. Also, we were able to see how the switch to product market fit happens. Once you have PMF, how fast the growth happens is very visible to us.

Two questions for you, Srikrishna. One is, what are your 1 or 2 GTM super skills, superpowers that people wonder about or contemplate and say, “Srikrishna is strong in this. Let me go and chat with him?”

If I look at my personal strengths, I’m very lucky. I tend to get to make good friends. People come around to test this thing. Fundamentally, one thing that I think through my experience of mistakes and my own learnings, which I can share very good inputs on, is about both in terms of early-stage go-to-market and how you start from early stages. Let’s say you have the first five customers. You have the first 10 design partners.

Next, what do you do? Which channels do you advertise on? How do you set up your sales motion? How do you set up your email motion? How do you set up your SDR motion? How do you set up your ad campaigns? How do you set up your marketing top of the funnel to the sync so that you can convert your customer’s past and then go after it?

That’s something I had got a reasonable experience on relative to the market, which is something people do come to me for. The second thing is also understanding the feedback loop in terms of how you identify early team members and early founders. How do you get the early system running and then building on top of that? Once you get the early setup right, a lot of things get solved for the next five years. After five years, it’s a very different problem and there’s a different scale which you have to solve for, but you have to get the early setup.

Thank you for sharing those. The final question I have for you is, if you were to turn back the clock and go back to day one of your GTM journey, maybe it’s Dabur or somewhere else, what advice would you give to your younger self?

As I mentioned earlier, I would’ve joined the startup much earlier. Instead of 2020, I would’ve started up in maybe in 2012.

The key aspect or something to emphasize on and the advice to the readers would be, yes, join the startup, but join a startup that has found a product market fit. There’s also the other aspect as to what is the criteria that you need to look for that have the DNA of a successful startup.

One is like at the fundamental level as founders, you want to work with people who have your confidence and that’s something that you can very clearly seek. Once the founder has clarity in mind, it transpires into a clear vision. It transpires into more clarity like what he’s doing and why he’s doing it. It’ll also help eliminate any cultural issues in terms of people being irritable, not hiring the right people, not over-hiring, etc. All these things these things get solved for. Fundamentally, you need to look for whether you have a founder who’s mature and clear in a set. That can be issues around product market fit, early stage, late stage, or something like that.

That can be so many companies, whether it’s funded or not funded, but fundamentally even with funding-funded companies or late-stage companies, things can always go wrong. What doesn’t go wrong is you having the early founding team being very clear on their heads. If you can identify companies or people you can set with on those lines, and this is a human gut instinct, it’s like you’ll know whether that person is right or not or whether he’s confident or not. Whether he’s someone who can be a leader or not, that’s something which you very clearly know and you jump into the ship with them. Whether it’s a ship, a raft, or a catamaran, whatever it is, you can figure the way out.

Thank you so much for taking the time, Srikrishna. Many nuggets for me personally as well as for the readers on go-to-market, your career journey, and how you made the choices and decisions as to what you’re doing and who you’re serving now. I wish you the very best and I wish the team at Factors.ai the very best as well.

Thanks a lot.

 

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