Episode No:47

Pushing Business Upward with nGrow ft.

Alex Sergeev


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Ep#47: Pushing Business Upward with
nGrow ft. Alex Sergeev (CEO)
Ep#47: Pushing Business Upward with nGrow ft. Alex Sergeev (CEO)
  • Ep#47: Pushing Business Upward with nGrow ft. Alex Sergeev (CEO)

Episode Summary

Welcome to the latest episode, where we had the pleasure of chatting with Alex Sergeev, the CEO of nGrow.ai. Alex took us on a journey from his early days working in analytics and marketing to his current role at nGrow. Along the way, he shared some valuable insights on his experience with targeted push notifications, the challenges of integration, and the lessons he’s learned from his sales experience. Alex also gave some great advice for start-ups looking for acquisitions and for building strong relationships with customers in customer success. So sit back, relax, and join us for this insightful conversation with Alex!
Key Takeaways Time
The Story of Alex Sergeev and nGrow.ai 1:06
Navigating Integration: Lessons Learned 4:30
Targeted Push Notifications: An Incremental Uplift to Business 7:22
The Road to Y Combinator: Alex’s Journey 18:18
Scaling with Outreach: Best Practices for Startups 25:02
Deepening the Dialogue: A Strategy for Better Customer Understanding 28:02

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Alex Sergeev 0:02 Start from a very small sample of audience, make some results from there. Some product managers will discuss internally that it makes sense. And then you got some bigger sample of their audience. Taylor Kenerson 0:18 Welcome to the Hyperengage podcast. We are so happy to have you along our journey. Here, we uncover bits of knowledge from some of the greatest minds in tech, we unearth the hows, whys, and whats that drive the tech of today. Welcome to the movement. Hello, everyone, welcome to the Hyperengage Podcast. I’m here with my co host Adil. And we have two beautiful guests today, Alex and Gugo from Ngrow. Thank you guys so much for joining us. Alex Sergeev 0:49 Thank you guys, for having us. Adil Saleh 0:51 Nice to meet you guys. Taylor Kenerson 0:52 We would love to get started. And if you wouldn’t mind kind of telling us a little bit how Ngrow came to be, where you saw the problems, how the idea shaped? And how you kind of came into what the product is now? Alex Sergeev 1:06 Yeah, absolutely. Thank you for asking. And thank you for the presentation. So my background, you know, I’m just deep inside marketing and analytics and machine learning. So you know, I spent whole my career 10 years to make some machine learning micro-services to marketing. So I’ve tried to tweak Google ads, then the Google C campaigns, it’s just campaigns that are targeted by some event and apply lots of machine learning models onto you know, marketing purposes. And partly was succeeded partly was not succeeded. But the whole goal of my career was, you know, analytics, marketing and machine learning. So that approach helps me to grow fast and scale my career. And by the end of 2020, I worked at largest CIS company called Yandex. So they’re making a lot. It’s mostly like CIS Google. So they’re pretty much similar company. And there is a lot of machine learning and marketing topics there. And I’ve tried to apply lots of approaches in my work. So I was responsible for the grocery or food tech vertical. And I was responsible about retention and growing usage of their mobile apps. And I tried lots of, you know, marketing niches. So I was a CMO. And I was responsible for everything. But what made me very curious is how to make users be engaged into a mobile app. Whether very simple communication, but very precise, I was wondered, looking on my smartphone, I was wondering why push notifications are not so relevant. Why do they, you know, send me some mess or some relevant content, not right at the time. By the way, in their acquisition industry, in performance marketing, for example, ads are very much relevant, we see that if we click somewhere on some tools or some goods, we see that those goods and related goods are, you know, following up. So pretty much precise there. But push notification could suddenly happen and means nothing. And this is a problem. You know, me as a user, it’s a general problem that a push notification and not that relevant, that the push notification, do not benefit business as they could. And I’ve tried to resolve this problem. I started with the research started the research of our present competitors Braise, Bloomreach, Onesignal, Pushwoosh. Clever companies. Adil Saleh 4:08 Alex, you familiar with abstract, we had them back last year on our stage f5? Alex Sergeev 4:14 Not really. Not really. I’ve started with the big players, you know, Braze is the post IPO company 3 billion valuation right at the moment. So they are huge omni channel marketing platform. And what I found there is integrating Braze means, you know, half a year of development. So you need to create events, you need to make the process smoother. You need to, you know, start your push notification or multi channel engagement campaigns. You should hire the people by the way. So you should hire CRM marketers and educate them to make you know, these type of campaigns to engage the user and the whole process, you know, comes really, really tough for me. So I’ve not been succeeded with the integration. And by the way, I see lots of, you know, similar issues with there, lots of the customer, they just start with the integration process. I mean, some guys in here in Portugal that are doing some tech services, you know, those guys integrate in Braze or at least one year and not yet started that they’re sending push notification campaigns. And I tried, I tried to, you know, create something, something more lighter, something simpler, but the usage of AI. So my goal was, how can we just simply store with the data and apply some modern machine learning algorithms such as multi armed bandits classifiers. And some generative neural networks, just come across 10 popular apps in Europe and try to represent my idea and it gets tacked with that, because they just, you know, didn’t find this approach, familiar to their business, they’re just see an overview our product is that, yeah, we understand that it’s something new, but we can’t understand if it will bring some value to our business or not. But you guys see, seems like also ask us some efforts to develop some efforts to integrate, and there was a false negative signal from the first, you know, first 10 customers, but I didn’t give up and try to practice my sales deck, I was a marketer, I was an analyst, marketer, machine learning engineer, but not a salesperson at all. So that that was my, I think, mistake, that I tried to make it by myself, but I’m not a salesperson at all. And, yeah, I think after 10 or 20, interviews, I found those free mobile apps that are, you know, feel themselves interested in trying something new, they didn’t understand what exact processes will be looked like, because, you know, their product feels like very complex. So bring the data from a bio analytical platform, we structure it some ways, some kind of push notification campaigns will determine what particular user should receive what particular message, and this approach seems like, you know, like a miracle for them, and they just, you know, decided to try. But suddenly, I’ve implemented one, I think, Game Changing feature in our product, we started measure incremental uplift to the business. So how push notification can increase revenue and retention of the mobile apps, and show these first, you know, this first measurement tool to the CEOs to their leader leaders, and starting from as instruction from numbers, you know, that was, I think, a moment of our product. So starting from these results, they started to be curious about how to make and grow more, you know, more efficient, what do we need, what we need from their side? What development on our side, what development needed their side, and this was, you know, a pretty much exciting moment for me. Adil Saleh 8:50 So, Alex, Alex, talking about all of this journey, how long do you think the take, like it was a year long journey, while you’re just troubleshooting with the real customer, showing them the product, showing them the numbers that make sense, and having a business standpoint, to track the audience and to make sure they’re, they have a commercial interest into it, too. So how did that journey took place? Like how long was it? We just want to make sure like how long it takes for some to build and validates such idea with the real time users? Alex Sergeev 9:26 Yeah, in real time users, it depends on the volume. So the bigger apps are, you know, it’s very simple to make a statistical significance in the results in a week. So it’s, it’s not gonna take some, you know, big time. But, you know, there is a thing that when you start selling some new product, some, you know, new ideas, some new approach, it’s a leap of faith from the customer side. And since we’re, you know, just haven’t got any real applied case. Ah, we have some cases, but from my previous career from previous experience not related to their business, for example, for Nestle business, they just, you know, do not trust and the you should, you know, start from very small sample of audience, make some results from there, some product managers will discuss internally that it makes sense or not, then it’s, again, some internal discussion, and then you got some bigger sample of the audience, then use the numbers, Adil Saleh 10:34 you need to make sure you plant a seed, you need to make sure you play with small amounts of prospects, and then you think about going wide, and have more look alike customers. And, you know, you can further validate that idea on scale. So, talking about your team, I’m sure you had you had a CTO that is more of a technical co founder, alongside you, how did you collaborate in the beginning? Like, what was your, like, your thought process, you know, getting the heads together, and building this platform for scale? What was his role? Why did you choose him? What was the challenge while finding someone like Murad? Alex Sergeev 10:34 Yeah, Murad, our relationships? They are, you know, like, how to say, sometimes they’re very exciting. Sometimes we have a conflict. But, you know, we are together, I think, at least eight years, past eight years. So I’ve met Murad, when I started working at Yandex. And we became friends, because we see, you know, marketing purposes on the same vector. So I was curious about machine learning and marketing on analytic side. And Murad was curious about machine learning, but on the acquisition and marketing side, so how to, you know, tune the acquisition campaigns. And we started to, you know, elaborate, these ideas started to, you know, be as small, how to say start up inside the big ecosystem, and try to make some ideas live. And as I said, sometimes we win, sometimes we lose, but we make these experiments with the communication. So we see lots of problems on the same vector. So I think our main, how to say main reason why we are still together is that on some main purposes, I mean, business vision, and some, you know, applied cases, we see things very similar, every conflict been resolved by the vase, this statement, I mean, we see the things that are absolutely common and default things similar. Taylor Kenerson 12:52 There’s really great value that comes out of that friction, and it’s not always bad. And I dislike when that friction, that conflict comes in. And it’s like a very negative connotation or perspective on it. Sometimes the greatest ideas or your next pivots come out of that disagreement, and that conversation that needs to get had, and needs to be had in order to drive that efficiency. And you know, sometimes you see startups, they avoid those conversations. And that’s where some of their failure comes in. Because they’re not having those tough conversations like, hey, this isn’t working, we got to get our shit together. And can you talk a little bit about how your, your dynamic shaped in you then going into YC? And what that that journey looked like, when was the decision made to go to YC, why YC? And what that whole process look like? Alex Sergeev 13:43 Yeah, you know, the first angel investment was very amazing for me. So I was not curious about venture capital. I was, you know, just a beginner of my own idea, I didn’t understand if I want to fundraise something, or is just, you know, a business or is just a tool how to make it. So I was really beginning out in my company, I mean, out in my career, and so, but I was well known in analytical communities. So that helped me to attract some guys who just believed in IBM, so the first four months I just didn’t pay any dollar for the salary. So we just, you know, created some Jupyter notebooks in Python. Taylor Kenerson 14:37 How did you get that buy in? How did you get that buy in from just you you brought in these poor guys and you’re like, Alright, guys. Alex Sergeev 14:45 You know, everyone wants every successful developer, Python developer or AI development, wants something new from you know, from the industry once their AI models be up. Light into their particular business. And there are not so much startups that apply AI into their business cases and be succeeded. And they just, you know, it was a leap of faith from there. And they believe in me, I think, because I was very, very deep inside what I’m doing. So I spent again, six years, at that time digging, dive into machine learning and marketing, and there is lots of content. And I think, you know, yeah, developers, some of developers, some of successful developers, some of them are not about their money, some of them are about their ideas. That is why, for example, some hackathons happening, that is why there are lots of competitions without money, and there are lots of contenders is there. So Kaggle, and competition and so on, there is not there are some, you know, approaches some tasks, and some things that are about how can you, you know, build infrastructure, resolve the real problems, and Ngrow is the resolving the real problems about the communication between developers and users. I think. Adil Saleh 16:21 And that’s, that’s why these engineers are all about solving problems, solving unique problems. So that attracts them. And coming from someone like you that has been like, seven, seven and a half years in Yandex, knowing all the things from the ground up scaling at scale, and you have this idea, it’s easier rather to be easier, as opposed to someone that is just jumping in into the domain, and he doesn’t have, you know, hands on experiences or domain. You know, engineers are Smartsheet, you know, and they have to be smart, because it’s, it’s the career on the stake, they need to make sure they have the right direction, and they’re behind a thought leader that is, that is confident. And they had that leader has a self belief grid. So how long did it take? Like, I’m just trying to track the journey? Like how long did it take from the beginning to building a platform, and to get over to small amount of customers, validating it, making sure you enhance the experience and features and all of that. And then getting your first angel investment as assume that you you got prior to YC going to the YC. And then applying for the YC took through briefly on? How long did the journey was and what you use? Alex Sergeev 17:33 It was nine months. So nine months? Yeah. And then we started to think about acceleration. So made some applications into our Alchemist accelerator. So we thought that it’s a good accelerator that helps SaaS companies. Yeah. And yeah, and also, I put 30 minutes to fill YC application form. With some, you know, mistakes on it. So my application was ideal. For sure. It wasn’t ideal. There are lots of examples, the better to say the better precision should say. And we were invited into batch in Alchemist. And there is a thing that we should decide in, I think, first of November in 2021. And at the end of October, there is an answer from YC to make, to make a call to make a 10 minute call there, you know, last interview. And there was a decision, you know, we’ve been applied to the Purdue particular well known SaaS accelerators. So their GP is from Stanford, and he knows some guys who are very interesting for us, and we see their opportunity, and their offer is ours. And at the same time, there is a small amount of opportunity to participate in YC scenes, we were invited into, you know, live interview section. And I decided to drop to drop Alchemist and go and try to participate in YC. I didn’t know why did I believe that moment, that we have some chances? Because I knew that there is a lot of companies, a lot of you know, successful founders and well a lot of good products are applying at the same time and their competitive landscape looks very, very tough. But I decided to try. Our interview wasn’t very common. So all interest was about the product, nothing from the business, nothing from the sales, nothing from their go-to market. The guys from YC, were very curious if this technology can earn money. So what are they curious? Were they curious about is why are we different from you know, their competitors. And if we are so different, why people paying money to us, not just one signal, and they needed proof. So I, you know, screenshot my bank account and send to the YC, partner YC partners, twice, I think they were very curious about if we have recurring revenue in this particular market, this particular, you know, problem and this particular product. But, you know, the time since the, I think the decision comes later, I think three hours later than the conversation wasn’t, I mean, they enjoyed. Adil Saleh 21:16 Got it, they do it most often with a lot of unique platforms aspect from so if I ask you now, two years down the road, was it, did it happen, because you had like loads of experience under your name, and you built this platform versus somebody that has no experience under his name, and build that platform? Or you think that if somebody doesn’t have that kind of experiences you have, cannot build a platform like that? What is your opinion? Like? Alex Sergeev 21:43 I think you know, I couldn’t be, I couldn’t be biased here, because this particular product is, you know, it’s something new, according to the whole market. So this is quite a new approach. So none of our competitors doesn’t do the same way. I think these compare this kind of product requires big expertise on it, because you know, our competitors, they research department, they look and seek other startups, they look and see opportunities where to invest to make their product cover all the niches all their you know, all the problems. That is why, but it’s not a universal, you know, this is not universal answer. So, if you ask me, if the founder, without a background could build a successful SaaS company, I could say that, yeah, probably can could help him. Adil Saleh 22:39 Yeah, he can definitely acquire teams, technical teams, and CTO with that background. And you can still go on and apply to YC, and have similar journey to learn more skills. So two years down the road, have you been approached by different, you know, big players about acquisition, because a lot of these unique platforms I’ve seen, you have seen a lot that they got acquired, and the first two, three years. So have you had any kind of, you know, engagements or found these Alex Sergeev 23:09 kind of a dialogue? Yeah, we’ve had a dialogue, there’s two big players, one of them is the local, and one of them is very significant one. But, you know, the seed stages are, they’re not about their acquisition mostly. So if the market is huge, so there is a, you know, difference between how do you evaluate your company right at the moment, and every m&a is better to, you know, to make a track record. So you just want to check some industries, make some numbers from the indices, conversions, you know, size of the markets, and that can prove your valuation? If you got your point on merchant acquisition very early. Yes, you just lose this, you know how to say this. And Adil Saleh 23:58 that’s why they shade Yeah, you know, they have the similar business. From a business standpoint, they have a similar interest, they want to acquire companies that are small that are going to go big they know that and they try to acquire it. And from your standpoint, it’s absolutely right. You want to get bigger and have a bigger renovation, if you want to exit like three years, why not? After five years, just like a lot of companies did. And, you know, Salesforce requires a lot, a lot of setback forms in the past. The recent past is so great. I love the direction. I love the way you’re driving, from the business standpoint, from the product standpoint, and visually really a great success with that any ending notes for not just as this from the technology standpoint, but also from the business standpoint. What is that advice that you would give to any SaaS platform, trying to get the foot in the door with a small team as small as you had back like three four people? Bunch of folks crazy but one idea and they’re trying to get an accelerator? What was what do you think is advice based on your experience and opinions? Alex Sergeev 25:02 You know, there is one statement, I can share it. Right, the public, but, you know, I’ll be focused, I recommend be focused on outreaches, you know, on outreach in your first, you know, scaling stage customers. So their process is slightly different when, for example, I do and sales deck for the potential customer, you know, find them personally or been referred. So, this is quite a very, very different world, when you start outreaching, the cold emails, and there is a process, it’s better to start as early as possible to make time to make your go to market strategy, you know, evolve and evaluate, by the time because you never know what approach will, you know, will be successful. What words should you say, to make your customers interest? And it’s all about the testing. And the testing requires time now, that is why, they’re automating outreaches, creating the sales perspective, and test them a lot. So we add our history, I think we do their sales. I mean, the cold outreach is I think, in the year, so we achieved increasing conversion number, I think, for x for this year. And it’s, you know, very different picture from the investors if you have, for example, 2% conversion, or it’s 10% conversion. So it’s, you know, you just can negotiate with everyone in investors. Yeah, that is why outreach is very important right at the moment for SaaS business. Adil Saleh 26:53 Okay, one question relating to this, because we are building a b2b SaaS platform for Customer Success teams are the same customer success teams. And that’s why we are also talking to the exploring more with the startups. So what do you suggest, like we recommend, and I’ve also experienced it with few SaaS platforms in the past, before in building your platform, you can talk to your future customers, you can talk about that pain, try to see how you can build awareness around that pain, of course, navigating to the to the market gap, never get into the addressable market, navigating through their day to day operations, how you can fill him as an product experience, not just a problem, or solution, but also the experience side of it. And it’s utterly important for you as a SaaS founder to know how your customers are applying day to day, just like talking about a platform for Customer Success teams, you need to know what they do day to day, what are their operations, what kind of technologies they they use? What is their mindset, you know, what are their biggest pains that are very much tied to the revenue? So there’s a lot that you can do even before the launch? I would say do you agree with this? Alex Sergeev 28:02 You know, we found some good tactics in this because if you ask directly come to the product manager or leader, for example, in Twilio, and ask him, Hey, what’s your, you know, girls? What’s your pain points? Right, the moment? I think he will answer something, but it will be not very precise. Because, you know, this is how conversation works. So you’ve got some piece of information, and I acknowledge that it could be true, by some percent. We tried recently, some different approach tries to, you know, negotiate some very common topic in our industry, it could be for example, A/B test. So we come to product managers and say, Hey, guys, how do you calculate and measure A/B tests if the dialogue is about, you know, Montes monetization matrix, because they are various, and there are lots of, you know, publications that lots of statements, lots of piece of content there, and we start dialogue from very common, not related to our product, talking and topics, and since your session starts on the very general, and very generic, should say, topic, so high level F, you know, and since you’ve got the trust, you can just, you know, one by little by little, just ask the person about the pain points about how does he calculate the test what he thinks about impacting push notification on A/B test. So you start from, you know, two step dialogue, because on our previous approach, you can ask about the pain points, but it’s not so precise. Sometimes people just you know, They say that they have no pain points, or they have pain points that their salaries or they have pain points is their, you know, big release cycle something that you can can can get value from their answer. But if you start speaking about, you know, something common and better share something according to their junior generic things. For example, in our landscape, it could be A/B tests or for example, deeplinks solders, also in mobile marketing, and attribution as well, in web or web three technologies, it could be the different topics that are popular that just people really like to talk on it. And starting from this, we can just, you know, dive deep into the topic you have used. Adil Saleh 30:56 love that I love your thinking approach and how you have have a neutral, but yet analytical opinion on aspects. Alex Sergeev 31:07 right now. Everyone’s inbox and LinkedIn is horrible. So there are lots of you know, I have received, I think 100 notifications a day. So if their dialogue starts from Hey, what’s your pain point? I’d not rather to answer. Adil Saleh 31:25 Yes, yes. Great. I love this conversation and the way you approached it, and very detailed grounded conversation. Thank you very much, Alex, for helping us learn more about about Andrew and how you can potentially grow this as a business as a technology, and how big of an impact it can make into transforming you know, businesses lives and the way they they use mobile push notification and how they can monetize it. So I love this conversation. Thank you for taking the time. And we’ll definitely touch back soon. Whenever anybody comes in and needs your help. And as soon as this episode is up, we’ll let you know. Anything that we need in terms of you know, your high quality pictures and you know, anything that my team needs, they can reach out via email. Alex Sergeev 32:16 Absolutely. Very appreciate for invitation. And thank you for your time guys. Taylor Kenerson 32:22 Thank you guys. Adil Saleh 32:24 Pleasure. Thank you so very much for staying with us on the episode please share your feedback at adil@hyperengage.io. We definitely need it. We will see you next time and another guest on the stage with some concrete tips on how to operate better as a Customer Success leader and how you can empower engagements with some building some meaningful relationships. We qualify people for the episode just to make sure we bring the value to the listeners, do reach us out if you want to refer any CS leader. Until next time, goodbye and have a good rest of your day.

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