Episode No:84

Unpacking Customer Insights in Startups

Tony Tom

CEO, Produx.ai

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Ep# 84: Unpacking Customer Insights
in Startups ft. Tony Tom (CEO, Produx.ai)
Ep# 84: Unpacking Customer Insights in Startups ft. Tony Tom (CEO, Produx.ai)
  • Ep# 84: Unpacking Customer Insights in Startups ft. Tony Tom (CEO, Produx.ai)

Episode Summary

In this episode of the Hyperengage Podcast, Adil Saleh interviews Tony Tom, the CEO and co-founder of Produx.ai. Tony discusses his background and journey from a product manager to founding Produx.ai, which focuses on providing actionable insights for product teams. They talk about the challenges product managers face when trying to understand customer needs and how Produx.ai aims to solve these challenges. They also discuss the onboarding process and the time it takes for customers to see value from the platform. Tony emphasizes the importance of aligning customer requests with the overall product vision. The conversation also touches on the go-to-market strategy and the focus on outbound sales. Finally, Tony mentions having fewer than 100 active users and their hands-on approach to customer engagement and feedback.
Key Takeaways Time
Tony Tom’s early career started at Incent AI, a small startup, where he gained experience.
Scaling poses challenges in understanding customer needs due to data influx from various sources. 3:31
Moving from startups to enterprises limits direct customer access, requiring insights for informed decisions. 5:19
Time to get actionable insights varies (1-3 months) and often aligns with quarterly planning. 12:38
Aligning product vision with customer requests is vital; build solutions that serve both. 16:54
In the early stages, outbound sales is the focus, with plans for gradual customer base expansion. 19:38

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Adil Saleh 0:03 Hey, greetings, everybody, this is a Adil from Hyperengage podcasts. And, you know, just in the past, we spoke to leadership and product board, not a product management platform we've had recently, we spoke to the leadership on some high level decision that they've made the past three years, and how they're trying to make an impact in the industry, we came across, Tony today. Thank you very much, Tony for taking the time. He started as a parliament has been more than 10 years. And ever since he, you know, graduated from academics and then ventured into the product management as part of incent AI that later got acquired by zoominfo was a senior product manager there. And then, just for the last, I would say, more than a year now, he is the CEO and co founder of produx.ai, that is, again, part of intelligence in a very different, you know, I would say a different angle that they're trying to produce this technology and deserve the product managers than most platforms that we have on this dais. Thank you very much, Tony, for taking the time for this call. Tony Tom 1:11 Thanks for having me. Adil Saleh 1:13 Love that. Great. So talking about days, I didn't attend AI, that is a platform that you know, that you had a real experience in senior product manager, you know, making some high level decisions and staying on top of data and ensuring success across all business angles as a product company. Well, you know, what do you think? How did it add up as to your incremental, which is, you know, co founding a product like product car. And all that journey went along, and what kind of, you know, learnings that you had, Tony Tom 1:46 yeah, that's, that's exactly how I landed here, because that's where we figured out this idea. And we started to work on this. So incent AI was a small company, when I started, I was the first product person to join the company, it was like four people plus two co founders back then when I joined. So it was like, super early in the stages, we didn't have many customers, the product was still in very early stages, that's when I joined. So before that, as well, I've been doing a lot of zero to one journey back in my career before instantly as well, I was always been a startup guy. And incent kind of gave me that zero to zero to one journey scale. When that scaled up. So insane, scaled up very fast. It was back in 2019, where marketing tech, and Mark Tech was booming up right right after COVID. Also Mar tech started booming up. So I had a chance to work very closely with the founders in understanding what what the market was. And understanding the customers we were very close to customers early in the days. So while being in a startup, the advantage that you have is, especially when you are being the fifth or sixth employee is you have so much visibility into what's happening with the customers and right and you you hear customers, you pretty much we go into customer call we help them implement, we go through all the product cycles as well. So I had that very deep visibility into what the customer problems were. That's where it started. And then pretty much it scaled very fast. But eventually it got acquired by zoom info, which is a huge company, as you probably already know, right? Zoom info is one of the biggest b2b companies out there. So we all transitioned into product engineering, every department got transitioned into zoominfo. And that's that's where we started seeing product people as our sales and engineering teams. Be we were not very close to the customers at that point, we kind of worked with customer success managers, sales leaders, and all the other customer interfacing teams departments to actually make sure customers are satisfied, what they are really looking for etc. So during that transition, we thought, okay, this is something that can be achieved even without fumbling a lot of those departments, right. They have their own functions, they have their own KPIs to track and they have their own their own job on a daily basis. When you go and try to understand aspects possible from a customer success person or a manager on sales manager, you don't get the first hand information that easily you have to stay on calls dig deeper. And for bigger companies, as they scale up the number of customers also exponentially increases as startup starts on the scale stage. So as the number of customer increases, you have if even if you have five salespeople and five customer people having three calls per day, that's 30 calls per day. So That's like, so much information from calls itself. Now you have support tickets. Now your chats now Yeah, so much information coming in. At the end of the day product teams don't have enough bandwidth to go through all of this and figure out exactly what customers want. But next startup, you're very close to customers, pretty handful of customers, but you're still very close to them, you know where to go and find out the information. That's where we figured out this could be solved. as a, as a product manager, you need much more visibility into what you really, really care about. And that's a problem. We wanted to solve that. And that's where we landed here, to understand the data, make the data available for product teams to make decisions and make it much smarter. That rule, that's how we landed here. Yeah. Adil Saleh 5:53 Very interesting, very interesting. A, you know, get to hear a lot these product teams get to talk to and work cross functionally with GTM teams, and a lot of information gets lost in translation, you know, the information, the feedback can talk about customer feedback, we're not talking about the health of the customer, a lot of it depends on how that person communicates, a lot of that can be analysed. So there has to be a platform that analyse that data and gets it to the right people, because at the end of the day, customers are not, you know, buying the platform to basically make a transaction with you, or maybe use your product, basically, they're trying to solve their problems. So that is something that you know, that should get translated to the product teams that are actually working the product. So they have made a transaction for to buy the product to solve the problem. So now the question is 20 V, we get to also see that, like, I'm also co founder of a b2b sales product. And, you know, we also tend to go very high, you know, in the first two years, we know that, you know, it's going to be very high touch, we got to live closer to the customers, we need to make sure whatever feedback that we get that aligns with the product vision, we need to implement those features in a product standpoint. So now, this information that you have, do you not think that for a GTM team, it's good enough for them to have that information that they collect from the customer in one unified place that is visible across the organisation, in a startup talking about a company and team size of up to 50. They have like 10 people on the on the on the GTM side level, the customer facing side, five to 10 people on the product side, the developers and then a couple of product managers. So do you not think for a smaller company is not going to be a baggage that they have to carry? I'm just asking you can you can you can answer logically, actually, you better know. So to have an add on another tool instead of their team in a unified data source where all the data points get transmitted, make made action driven as well. And then product managers, if they have a few, they just go in, read through to the lines, understand that summarise data points that are and take their actions from it. And then what do you think? Tony Tom 8:16 Absolutely, absolutely. I don't, I don't disagree at all. So for for a company that's less than 50 member or even like even if if we go up to 100 people, right that that is exactly how a startup should work. They shouldn't be worrying about how do I integrate with tool A and B, how do we connect those two things? Do I buy Zapier instead? Or how do I connect these two API's etc. That's not something that a startup really want to worry about. Right, they should have all in a single platform. And I would I would go up to the extreme and say they should all have this in a single Excel sheet. They just push it into an excel sheet and use it as much as you can manage it, then maybe go to another CRM or a CDP that you can manage everything together, and then use that. So that's where product team will also get visibility. So for a startup, the problem that I just mentioned, and what we are solving doesn't really, really matter. So our customer base is also not someone who's like 100 member, Team startup was 10 member product team, they can really dig deeper into data as much as they want. And that incident also while I was being there, we have we were a three member product team, three product managers, plus, I think somewhere around 10 to 12 developers with three plus designers as well. So this was pretty big product team, even then, almost 90, I wouldn't even say 95. And like 99% of the people who are working on product really had the visibility on what, why they were doing something, why they were building something and why they are designing something why that decision was taken. So for a startup that really works out that way. But when you move into the growth stage, that's where you have to bring in silos, right? You had to bring in GTM silos you had to bring in and separate the customer success department be into Be the VP or the head of taxes, someone who comes in and they have to manage their data very specifically in a way that they can understand. Sales come in at the same time, VP of Sales comes in and they, someone who would prefer Salesforce instead of HubSpot would just come in and say, I want Salesforce, I want these are the tools that I really would prefer my team to use. Instead of pushing back, you start to work with that VP to make it happen, right? That's where that's what happens when the company starts to scale. That's where this problem starts becoming more prevalent. How do I get access into Salesforce? How do I get access into Gainsight? How do I get access into Gong, for example, all of this comes together. At that point, you cannot do much. At that point, the founding team also cannot do much they have to bring all of this together, that's a decision that they have to take. That's where I think the difference becomes more evident, the problem becomes more prevalent. That's where replace Adil Saleh 10:59 gotcha, gotcha. Thank you very much for addressing this answer. And being you know, genuinely, you know, honest about about about what you think is right at this moment, the product that fits more on the enterprise segment. Now, of course, in a startup, we tend to preach this ladder, and the first two years, do the things that don't scale, to get it right, first nail it, and then scale it. You know, that's that's one thing that you know, a lot of these, you're you're also San Francisco Bay. So you, you know that this is the thought process that all these founders, they tend to build a first product. And they work on the onboarding, the work on the initial customer feedback, hands on with the team with the customer. And then they find these technologies, which is loads in the industry that can integrate to make sure that she their goals that are scalable, at a scalable level. So now, another thing that I wanted, I wanted to also test, you know, asking about about your customer base, like right now, you're just a few years into your product, like, what kind of motion that you're in right now? Like, is it more towards working hands on since it you don't have sort of trial plans, so you get to talk to the customer, give them demonstration of the product, understand their use cases, and see how you can how they can better fit, and then help them integrate all the data points. So what kind of number one, what kind of integrations just on the enterprise side? What kind of integrations you do using the onboarding. And you talk about actionable insights or action action driven data? How does it How long does it take for mid sized, like small enterprise sized companies, they take during, you know, post onboarding. Tony Tom 12:38 So we, we go and integrate. So the the motion is like exactly what you said, we are hands on more towards we onboard, customers hands on and we work with them to achieve the value that they're looking for. So we start with a set of call that familiarise with the product, then we enable them to get a look at how the integrations work, then probably at this stage, companies would have different departments handling those integrations as well. So different tools will have different ownerships, privileges, that they need permissions that we have to get to, we facilitate all of that within ourselves and make sure that this is something that everybody can, can work with, then integrate hands on, again, very much hands on at this point. And once a company has on boarded, depends on the data as well. So we have some level of data quantity measurement on our end, so that we can predict the value. So usually, typically, what we see is it takes from one month to three months, depending on the quality and quantity of data that is coming in to get actionable insights Some companies even can get if they have like 50 hours of data per day, 50 hours of calls per day, that's so much information that's coming in. So it depends on the quantity of the data that is bringing in as well. But it varies from one month to up to three months to start seeing the real actionable insight. And three months, I think is a preferable time because also companies start and plan based on a quarterly basis. So once you set the plan, the product teams don't really want to change the plan unless it's something really critical. That's also something that we focus on. In the next planning cycle, you should have so much value, so that you make the decisions much more data driven. That's also something that we focus on. Adil Saleh 14:40 Gotcha. Gotcha. So now, also thinking about like, you mentioned the time to value like it's it takes like, for for a midsize enterprise company it takes like one to three months to actually get the value out of the platform 100% successfully on boarded to the platform, get all of their data, actionable data points and probably a dashboard And then they start, of course doing customizations. So could you just walk us through a little bit on on the use cases, like what kind of, I would say custom data fields or custom data events, they can integrate, talking about the product managers on the users, the end users of the product, to have them sort of better visibility on set up accounts, that they haven't said, you know, they are dedicated, like in an account, enterprise motion, it's going to be product manager, dedicated to one customer, maybe they have smaller customer, that's fine. They'll have like three or seven. So how this platform products AI is flexible towards both avenues. If one product manager managing 10 accounts, one product manager dedicated to one enterprise account, like he's looking over one customer insight, so is this. I would say is this more dependent on the size of accounts that product manager is looking after? Or is it just depends on on the amount of data points that they integrate? So how does that workflow works? Tony Tom 16:05 Yeah, another thing I wanted to artists, so three months of time to value that we are trying to enabled, right? So we can go back in history as well. So if the company and the customer was onboarding prefers to have value as soon as possible, then they are in the planning cycle, immediately they want to get value, what we can do is we go and figure out what happened last three months. That's also something that our platform can facilitate. Coming back to the next question to the the level of customers, right, so in product management, what what I'm hearing is from talking to heads of products, VP of Products, etc, is there are as company scales, you obviously go up market paid marketing enterprise, when price customer comes in and asks for a specific thing, there are two motions that goes into probably a VPS head, or someone who's heading the product, okay, I can do this based on this enterprise customers ask itself so that I am making this particular customer happy, this decision could go and go and make them happy that specifically but if I were in that position, or what I seen, most of the companies really prefer to do is I can do this in such a way that I build up something like a solution, which also satisfies the enterprise customer level, ask at the same time, which can cater to maybe a similar ask from all those other 50 customers that you have in the long tail. So that means our product vision is very much aligned to serve all the customers and not just serving one particular ask. And often when you serve that one particular ask from an enterprise customer, what happens is, you get pivoted into a different direction, which you really don't want your product which can get overloaded. And at the end of the day you are not building what you really plan to do is just facilitating something like a revenue to be retained. And at the end of the day, that's not helping your product. So that's something that we facilitate as well showing that, hey, this enterprise customers coming up with this, you might want to take a look at similar apps from the smarter customers. Overall, this contributes to a bigger chunk of what you probably want to build. And this is how you should look at it. So it aligns to the vision of the product, pretty much all customers are happy as Adil Saleh 18:32 well. So that's what that's what VP is like the VP of product, they are going to make sure that okay, this feature request or this request is basically 100% aligned to what we're thinking of taking this product forward in the next 235 years. And just like startups do, like they want to serve everybody, and a lot of the same what can be because people have more experiences, bad experiences, and that turn to unfold and like, not just immediately that's, that's, that's the painful thing. Like they get to realise it three years later, that okay, the thing that they have done, or based off of one customer is not accounted for, you know, a lot of people so I 100% echo with it. So now talking about GTM site as a CEO of this, you know, as a business, how you're trying to turn around your go to market strategy in terms of, of course, acquiring customers, you know, we're, we're how you're basically planning on the plans and everything you guys funded or you're trying to bootstrap. What is that journey plan? Tony Tom 19:38 So, right now, we are in the early stages, so we are funded. And the way that we look at it is in the early stages, as you said ready to be hands on. So we are very much hands on and that's that's how we are looking at the GTM and as well not just a product and but talking to very closely with the prospects what their pain points are understanding the real problem and managing the product on the other end to make those certain decisions. That's how we look at it. So that and pretty much it's all outbound at this point, especially with the segment that we are targeting the customers that we are in. We are pretty much outbound at this point. We, I think it'll it'll continue to be like this for another few. And then pretty much flip the equation we want to build up the top of the funnel with marketing and the tight stack after that, probably bring in more traffic into the website and then maybe even a PSD version, but PLD is very polarising. I don't want to get into that at this point. But yeah. Adil Saleh 20:50 I didn't ask that question. Because I know that you have you don't have a bad version. You don't have to basically talk to the customer person. Get the most recent Yeah. Tony Tom 21:01 It's very polarising at this moment. Yeah, some people are going going with it. I don't. I haven't figured it out yet. Or I don't I don't see how it'll work yet. So far, but right now it's fully outbound. That's where our focus is basically. And eventually, we want to make it more balanced from our top of the funnel marketing angle plus outbound sales. Adil Saleh 21:27 Cool. Interesting. One last question. Time is pretty much up to now how many customers that are actively using the platform we talk about, we tend to talk about active customers not paying customers a lot. Because these active customers can be turned to the pain customers engage, if the product is delivering the value, this is quite simple in the b2b says, so how many active customers do you have? Tony Tom 21:48 So we are working with us, we are working with a few pilots and making sure that they like the platform, they are making value out of it, and essentially giving them visibility into what our future looks like, right? We are pretty much building something that is very futuristic AI is evolving very fast. So that's that's how we look at it. So it's not, we don't we also look at it the same way. If they are satisfied, and they're happy with the solution. Eventually, they will start paying eventually they will retain for for a very long time. And the early customers are pretty much like our partners, who will who will enable us to do that. So that's that's currently our stage at this point. Adil Saleh 22:32 So how many are there altogether, like the 100 150 200, like these users that you have acquired right now. Tony Tom 22:39 So right now, we have less than 100 users. So it's pretty much very closely handheld. And we're keeping it low at the same time, because we want to manage these people on a regular basis, right, we want to talk to them, having a lot of users. And that's where I think also PLD comes into play, you can probably get a lot of signups. But that doesn't really mean they are all using the platform, they are giving enough feedback to the platform, etc. So we want to be getting feedback on a regular basis, being able to talk to them being able to get on calls with them and understand what they really need. So it's a really small number at this point. Adil Saleh 23:20 Yeah, absolutely. It's like a newborn baby needs attention right now. And very hands on attention. And then once you feed it once you basically get it healthy enough, and then you can set them on on their own, and they can live up their lives. It's just like, you know, it's like a synergy, the lifecycle that we have. And you know, we always tend to, you know, we're kind of fishing in same water, quite honestly, we're thinking of spending as much time with our customers and made the top line this is Pitch Perfect. So bottom line follows. And we know the exact journey. Even if that is like we nail it like for SMB. We nail it for startups, we need to make sure the exact journey of customers how this product is exactly going to deliver the value. And what what how does that customer look like. So it takes sometimes months, sometimes years. And then once we get the product market fit. That's the these are the conversations we can have like products that drove community led growth, all of this. So for first time founders, this is not a part of the conversation part of it. Yeah. I appreciate your time. Tony. It was real nice, powerful. I love the energy that you brought in and the knowledge actionable knowledge that you have just like your product, actionable insight. So thank you very much and good luck with your journey. Tony Tom 24:41 Awesome. Awesome. Thanks for having me. Really appreciate it. Have a good day. Bye bye for now.

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