Aleks Gollu is the Co-Founder and CEO of 11Sight, an inbound video call platform. He is a serial entrepreneur with a successful track record of building innovative solutions.
Aleks saw an opportunity to eliminate friction from sales cycles, offer customers a more personalized digital experience, and accelerate revenue generation, which is what led him to co-found 11Sight.
11Sight shortens the sales processes from 10 days to 15 minutes with one click inbound video calls from any channel.
What you will learn
- What inspired Aleks to found his company 11Sight
- From idea to testing: Aleks let’s us in on his process for developing and growing 11Sight
- Discover the challenges tech companies face in today’s digital world
- Learn why increasing market share is critically important for your business
- What’s behind the rise of the digital nomad lifestyle?
- Plus much more!
00:00:04 - 00:02:04
Hi everyone and welcome to The Jeff Bullas Show. Today I have with me, Aleks Gollu. Aleks is originally from Istanbul, Turkey, which is one of my favorite cities in the world. If you ever get a chance to go and visit, go and do it because it's a magical place, especially the old city, which has got incredible, you know mosques and basically markets and just it's fascinating. So this is not an ad about Istanbul, Turkey, this is about Aleks and what he does really. So a little bit about Aleks, he’s the CEO of 11Sight, an inbound video call platform and formerly was the co-founder of OTelNet and PINC, both tech companies, we'll talk a little bit about those.
He is a serial entrepreneur with 2 prior positive exits and a CEO with a successful track record of building innovative solutions. He also has a Bachelor of Science degree from MIT, a Master of Science and PhD degrees from UC Berkeley And he's also been granted eight patents, I think that would put Aleks down as an overachiever really. So we're looking forward to finding out what makes him take a bit more in a minute, Aleks started his career at Oracle and Sapient and lives in the Bay Area and he quickly realized by living in that area that he had a passion for entrepreneurship and co-founded his first startup, O’TelNet, a pioneer of SMS-based cell phone application that was acquired by a competitor. Then did PINC, which is to help supply chain technology and using the internet of things technologies then it was acquired by the leading private equity firm, Accel KKR.
And most recently due to some frustrations managing revenue, he started another company which is 11Sight. So what a resume, Aleks, it's fantastic to have you here and I want to find out a little bit more what inspired you to get in this entrepreneurial gig after doing, obviously look like a very much a science background.
00:02:05 - 00:04:14
Well, yes, I do have a PhD from UC Berkeley, but what I did is I worked between my Master's and PhD years for a while and initially that was an Oracle and when I joined Oracle they were 2000 people. This is back in ‘89, I said this company is too big. I moved to a smaller company with 120 people. They went public when I was working there. So that gave me the first entrepreneurial taste. And when I finished my PhD the years ‘98, the dot com era is about to start. Mobile phones, Motorola StarTAC is the most advanced phone. Netscape is new. So it was too hard to resist and I wasn't academically single minded enough. So I said, okay, someday, maybe I'll go back to academia but let me go do my own companies first. And the first startup, as you said was OTelNet, which was SMS applications for wireless handsets. When Motorola StarTAC flip fund was the most advanced phone. Netscape was new. So we asked people what are you interested in, tell us, we'll send you SMS messages with your horoscope team results and stock prices. That company was sold to a competitor. Subsequently, both myself and my co-founder from OTelNet, he and I were PhD students together. We saw RFID and in today's parley, as you said, we built IoT companies in the cloud, we sold those and then we were saying, okay, what do we want to do next? We want to become angel investors. But I guess being masochists and seeing an opportunity and seeing a problem, we said we're gonna do one more startup and this one is gonna be for the upside because when we did our first startups, we defined success as seeing it through without screwing it up. We made some money in the process. Second one was making money for all shareholders and we delivered on that, Accel KKR acquired PINC for 50 million back a couple years ago. This time it's like making a lot of money for all shareholders. That's the goal.
00:04:15 - 00:04:21
Right. So you mentioned the term “we” so you obviously have co-founders, is that correct?
00:04:21 - 00:04:52
And that is correct. So part of his coffee, he and I were PhD students. We did total net together. We did separate companies for our second startups. Both got acquired, this is our third collaboration, second collaboration, third startup, our VP of marketing from PINC has actually since joined us. He is the one who joined PINC when PINC was 100K. And he jumped ship when PINC was 30 plus million. So we're gonna repeat that now here at the landing site.
00:04:52 - 00:05:06
Awesome. So obviously the inspiration for you to start was because you just saw opportunity and it was the middle of very exciting times with mobile. Is that what was a real sort of spark?
00:05:06 - 00:10:20
The inspiration for 11Sight came from our own needs. I mean this is actually even still pre pandemic and I'm gonna tie this to the pandemic in a minute. So we knew that increasingly we could use video to interact with each other. Right? And you are aware of Zoom. So we said okay, the meeting rooms, people schedule something and get in a room. That problem is solved life size. There are enough companies doing that. We all use Skype, WhatsApp, Facetime, two friends talking that problem is solved but when we looked at the needs of the business as to how they communicate with their customers, then we also look at it as a customer when we try to reach a business. What's that experience like. And I mean we all hate AI chatbots and trying to fill out the form and scheduling a meeting and requesting a meeting. It takes 5 to 10 days to get in front of a business and that's actually amazing to me that even to this day our technological companies have created these forms and websites and have created that problem. But it's ripe to be solved. Even Jason, the founder of [inaudible], recently wrote an article that said, you know when the phone rings pick it up, why is it that all these companies organized for the needs of the sales team as opposed to the needs of the customer, 70% of people don't show up to a scheduled meeting, 78% of the people buy from the vendor they talk to first. Right? So we said, okay, let's focus on those high velocity sales where decisions are made in 30 days or less. The customer is worth at least 1000 to warrant a video call like on a $17 t-shirt, I don't want to talk to the vendor, they don't want to talk to me. And if it's a million dollar deal, chances are an RFP or to 9-month sales cycle, who cares? But on a 30-day deal that five day delay that exists today kills the deal. So we said, okay, is that problem addressed? And can we do something that's different that doesn't exist, right. And that's when we started building our solution at 11Sight. And the goal was to have an Omnichannel solution which will allow a prospect to originate a call from any medium. In fact, even by scanning a QR code with your cell phone or clicking on a link on a G to capture a page, see something on Facebook or LinkedIn and engage it and click on it and that starts the conversation instantly without downloads, without appointments.
So as we were working on this, initially, when we started this wasn't even possible, technology evolved and come 2020 all of a sudden we all realized that we can do a lot more online with video. Now at that point in time we all met our needs no matter what our problem was with whatever existed, the Zoom box and I'm sure everybody has seen those court cases when the guy now looks like a cat because before this somebody else was that their daughter was using the Zoom meeting, right. So the need for a classroom, a courtroom, grandma's birthday. NSLs and marketing conversation are very different. It's not the same meeting room, it's not the same conversation that you need to have. So and people already know that like Teams and Google went to collaboration route, their companies like Airmeet and Hopin, they do events. So our focus is on the needs of sales and marketing organizations and to bring the businesses and customers together in such a way that we can facilitate instant conversation and accelerate lead conversion, especially at the top of that funnel when the prospect is first reaching the business. Now when we look at the market, there is a lot of focus on conversational marketing sales enablement. But luckily for us, all of those solutions are still taxed based and keyboard bound and that's a very slow means to communicate. And if you are a sales person, if you are an extrovert you want to talk to people, you want to sort of give them your aura, the keyboard doesn't allow you to do that.
So you want to talk to people, you want to make eye contact. Sure, ideally you would like to be having a coffee and a drink with them. But short of that a conversation on the computer is the closest you can come to that and you can get 80-90% of the value from. So that's basically the problem we saw and we decided to solve and are focused on today in terms of what we bring to the table.
00:10:21 - 00:10:37
So how does it differ in terms of okay, so you can do instantly, you can do it from anywhere. QR code. So how do you get the customer call you? Is that done via like they want to inquire? So just click on this link, is that what it is?
00:10:37 - 00:12:52
Exactly. That's what it is. So my e-line and we are calling this an e-line. I mean there was that old fashioned 800 number that people called. Now we are taking that online, we are reducing the digital communication identity of an individual, a department, the product, the location to a URL, I am call.link/Aleks. Our sales line is wecall.link/11Sight. In its most basic form, I can put this in my signature, I can embed this link on a Facebook posting, on a LinkedIn posting. I can make it the call to action of any campaign that the company is running or I'm running myself, I can reduce it to a QR code, put it on a business card on a flyer so that when somebody scans it they can actually call, we even have additional widgets off. I can create a button of it and I can embed a button on the website so that when people click on it, I give them a choice of a video call, audio call and so forth. So we do support video, audio and text, Although 90% of the people who use our solution get video calls and then it's up to you as the entrepreneur, as the side hustler of the salesperson to publicize yourself and your digital communication identity or your e-line so that people can find you. And of course if you are a company, you do all of those marketing campaigns with a central effort and we have this notion of a group line so that you could have multiple people on the group line when a call comes in, all of their devices ring and whoever answers first, that one gets the lead and we have more sophisticated routing algorithms obviously that then do round robins or escalations and so forth. Even with CRM integration, we can ask, hey, the person who is calling in, this is their email address, this is their business email address, who should we connect us to? So we have patented routing algorithms that make sure that we route the call to the most suitable available person in the company.
00:12:53 - 00:13:06
Right. So you would have had an initial idea and also there would have been I suppose core technology that used. So did you have to develop any technology yourself?
00:13:07 - 00:14:16
Yes. So actually we did look at other components we could buy and develop on, I mean our companies like Twilio and so forth and Video.io but ultimately none of them were able to match the needs of having that instant conversation.
So we ended up building this from the ground up, we have both these direct lines that you call and it's an instant conversation. You can even come to our website, we have a very rudimentary chat pot that says, do you want to talk to sales or support? If it sales, we want video or an audio, you click and you talk to us. So basically we were able to do that but we also have meeting rooms. So if you have a conversation you want to add a third person to the conversation, you are three, there are three of you, you can add a fourth person, somebody can leave. So we provide that comprehensive solution for all of your video conversation needs with your prospects.
00:14:17 - 00:14:58
Right, now here's a lot of things. There's one big thing that's a lot of entrepreneurs get faced with, right, and that one thing is I've got a great idea, I'm thinking I'm solving a big problem and it's gonna work. I know it's gonna work. Okay, did you create a minimal viable product? In other words, a lowest cost sort of lean mean app to test it and say, okay, let's see if this problem we think we're solving is worth solving. And does it work? And are people interested? So that minimal viable product lean startup type approach, did you do that?
00:14:58 - 00:16:20
Yes. So I mean the first version essentially was just that calling so that you can call and we can have a conversation. So you start with that. And we had that actually working in 2019-2020 and we were sort of waiting for the market to take off to add all of the additional capabilities and we were thinking okay, is video adoption going really fast enough? And then boom, everything changed overnight in March, April of 2020 and all of a sudden we are like, oh we are way behind in our roadmap, the need is very real, the need this year, people were actually calling us like back then we didn't have meeting rooms because we felt that okay, they exist. Why should we replicate? But then people came to us and said no, no, no, we don't want to have your call lines and somebody else's rooms. We want everything in one place. Then people said, oh we need the calendar to be integrated, we need the calendar that needs to be integrated. Hey, we use HubSpot or we use a CRM, we want that to be integrated. So all of those pieces followed in time as we roll this out to customers and we foresee a lot more of this coming, there is a lot more that we have planned.
00:16:21 - 00:16:31
Yeah. So how long did it take to go from idea to testing, in other words, when did you go? How long did that take?
00:16:32 - 00:18:19
I mean, so this time around, I mean we did this in my second startup too is making the minimum viable product work and then build from there. In this case when we started early, when we started this wasn't even possible right? It was only possible to originate a call without downloads and appointments on a Chrome browser but not on a Safari and not on an iOS. So we needed to implement slivers of it that were possible as these vendors were adapting the standards. We then found some early customers who are comfortable with those slivers to go production because accepting incoming video calls from Chrome, on Android or Windows and Mac was still much better than not accepting them at all. So we delivered those solutions and then, I mean we are writing the technology quicker, right? So the standards are evolving, the cameras on every device is evolving, the internet speed is evolving, I mean when we were first building this, we were working on making things work with 250 KB, nowadays with 5G and so forth, that's no longer an issue. People do have at least a one megabit internet connection. So as we watch technology, what's possible, we are adjusting our solution as we look at integration opportunities. We are adjusting at our solution. We even have a public growth map as our customers tell us what they want in the product. We are adjusting our solution.
00:18:20 - 00:18:47
So the big challenge to you built the tech. Now you've actually got to sell the tech. Yes. So, and for startups, it's usually two. There's two battles you need to wage number one, there is a technology battle that you need to keep ahead of the curve against potential competitors. On top of that, then you've got to get market share as quickly as possible. So in a startup, typically it's that race for tech and also race for market share, isn't it?
00:18:48 - 00:21:48
Yes. So, I mean on that front, the good news is we are our first customer. Because our customers make their decisions pretty quickly. Oh, I need a solution to talk to my prospects. They do their homework. Maybe they, do I go with Zoom or WebEx or do I go with something lighter? That's faster and will meet my needs. And then when they find us they come to our website they call us or they see us on LinkedIn, they see us on G2, they see us on Capterra and then they say how does this work? There is a link. Let me click on this. So be basically used our own methodology to build our customer base. I mean there are stories of somebody was gonna buy a solution from WebEx, the next day wasn't happy with the pricing,
wasn't quite meeting their needs. And they did like one last search on Google they found us and it was actually 10 o'clock at night. So we do have a sales line. We answered 24/7, right? We have somebody in India, somebody in Istanbul, somebody in Oxford, Germany, somebody in New York and then in the Bay Area. So it was 10 o'clock at night I was working and my phone rang and actually I clock out around 10:30, right, so I answered and four hours later that guy was a customer because he knew that's what he needed. He was gonna buy it from this other vendor, didn't quite meet their needs. And then they talked to us. We answered, we given them an okay schedule a meeting, let's talk in two days, you would have been gone.
So yes, I mean, another thing we did is we offered our solution in AppSumo last year and the bulk of the questions we would get was how does this work? And our answer was this is how it works. You're gonna put your link on wherever you are running your campaigns, wherever it is that you are advertising yourself and your prospects when they are interested, you talk to them, you explain to them what problem you solve, what differentiation you bring and that's basically how you're gonna grow. So it is also true that on a different note, that's also acknowledged that you need to run a lot of marketing campaigns and you need to put some money into it. That we cannot help you with that. You know, if you are running a side hustle or whatever you are doing, do whatever growth hacking techniques that are out there. Be active on YouTube, be active on Facebook, be active wherever your prospects and customers are because that's where they are gonna come and find you. And then when they reach out by all means talk to them.
00:21:49 - 00:22:15
So that begs another question in terms of how did you define your, I suppose, perfect customer, do you have a couple of perfect customers price point, I think you mentioned it like I think you said it's $1000 type product, not a million dollar product because we know that there's a 9-month, 12-months you want and you want to be able to speak to someone who's able to make a decision straight away. Is that right?
00:22:15 - 00:23:20
So there is some like abstract high level parameters for the ICP. Like their product needs to be thousand to a 100K. Sale cycle needs to be 30 days or less. But it's not a commodity. Some conversation is needed for legitimacy and trust and to resolve some requirements whether they can be satisfied or not. This does apply to B2C. The styles apply to B2B. And B2B SAS which is where we are our first customer. That's one low hanging fruit because product led growth is a new concept but like four or five years that the vocabulary is in there. Although buying something on the website with a credit card has been around much longer. So that's one low hanging fruit. But B2C market, we also were equally as successful with buying cars, some appliances, even sometimes real estate.
00:23:20 - 00:23:46
Okay so it could work for real time because people are gonna spend $1,000 and they want to make it quickly. So I watched a TED talk a while back and it looked at the five things that make startup successful. Okay and the big one, in other words what makes most startups successful is timing.
00:23:47 - 00:24:08
Yes, and we saw that as a perfect example. I mean it couldn't have been more visible, January 2020 market is not happening fast enough. May 2020, wish we had accelerated our roadmap.
00:24:09 - 00:25:03
Yeah, it's look, I've struck it in my life and my career is that, you know, I leapt into the PC industry as exploding back in the mid eighties when you know, Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were duking it out right and my timing was perfect. I didn't know at the time, but I just followed my gut because I felt the energy of the industry when I went and tried out some tech sales jobs and my career, I was a teacher originally and then I got into a side hustle selling products after my teaching day
and I enjoyed it and did quite well and so I said I'm going to do this sales thing, so that's what I did. I leapt into my part time side hustle while I was teaching and I made more money in two nights and I made in a week at work.
00:25:03 - 00:27:10
In fact, I mean, now that you are actually bringing that up from a side hustle, from a salesperson perspective, now is the perfect timing to leverage your own sources to create business for yourself because it doesn't matter if you are a self guy at the dealership or an SDR, BDR and a software SAS company, you are expected to do a certain amount of marketing and campaign and lead generation for yourself. So now is the time to differentiate yourself from the masses. So this is not just our timing but it's the timing for people who will use our solution. Why? Because there was a time email marketing was great for a while, LinkedIn was the right way of to reach out to people and the lead generation that became spam and right now it's all about social marketing and your post that you put on Facebook, maybe some blog articles that you write, that's where you build a reputation for yourself. And then if you provide that instant connection, instant video call as a call to action and you are able to talk to people in real time without downloads, without appointments. That's where you can really increase the sales and the results that you are making. Now in terms of timing for us, we still think that I mean our timing is perfect because as I was saying earlier, 2020 we all met our needs with existing technology, right now video technology is going vertical. Classrooms, courtrooms, sales enablement, conversational marketing tools with a video first on the channel perspective, in a couple years there will be a consolidation. So if we grab enough market share, will be the ones acquiring them. If you are modestly successful, that's still a huge up site for us, we will be part of a much, much larger company.
00:27:11 - 00:27:37
Yeah. It's timing is something I've experienced and you obviously have as well. The other thing that I'm certainly observing and one of the reasons we started side hustle strategies, which is separate product. But what I've discovered is that we're in the middle of this huge change in how we live and work as humans and how and when the middle of a huge change in how business is done.
00:27:37 - 00:27:38
00:27:39 - 00:28:16
And what I think, because a lot of us there's a lot of thinking like traditional old firms like lawyers and accountants are quite often stuck in being more office bound and demand. They work from the office even though they're much more productive at home. So this leads to a lot of opportunities both for tech, in other words businesses, because there are so many cheap, easy to use tools. In fact some free tools that you can use to start your business at almost no cost. And then also you can work from anywhere in the world as long as it's got an internet connection and you've got a laptop.
00:28:17 - 00:29:06
Yes. So I mean that's exactly what we are built for, right? Because speaking of those tools, you don't need a phone number anymore that's device connected. You can come to our website 11Sight.com, you can buy some lines, $15-$20. In fact we have created a discount code Bullas10, that's your last name with number one and zero attached to it. You will get a 10% discount and then you are ready to go, you are no longer tied to any device. The call can ring on your cell phone, it can ring on your laptop or desktop or if you are visiting your friend you can just log into your account on their PC and boom, you are in your office, calls can be coming in.
00:29:07 - 00:29:56
And we're seeing both countries starting to adapt their visa rules in terms of digital nomads. So the side hustle is gonna start a digital based business. They can start an online e-commerce store that you know as drop shipping, you can source a product from anywhere in the world and you can work for many of the world. But there are challenges being a digital nomad, number one is usually visas are only 90 days but countries like and places like Venice and Porto in Portugal and other countries are bringing in digital nomad visas. So this is you know, we are reinventing work and seeing it being reinvented in front of us and I think we're living in one of the most exciting times in history on a lot of levels.
00:29:56 - 00:31:40
Yeah I mean, I actually experienced that too because as I said, I did the first two startups, this was, these were traditional Silicon Valley venture funded companies. We would drive to central road, we would make a presentation if we were lucky to a second one and that would eat up the day and being able to raise money outside the Bay Area was not even an option. I mean in this company we have 40, 50 investors, they are all around the globe, primarily in US, Europe, Asia and some of these people haven't been in the same room with like the last two years. This is the desk I sit at, this chair I sit in. Although Marcy Theo corrects me six months ago, I changed the chair. I was still sitting on my OTelNet chair until recently and eventually my wife said this thing has fallen apart by something new. So I went to Ikea and bought a new chair. So from this chair, I was able to fund the company from investors around US, in Germany, in Turkey. And it's all conversations like this and some of them indeed, actually just call me on my e-line because they just get a kick out of it to see that it's that easy to reach me. So by making yourself accessible, it's all about timing, it's all about the changing business environment. It doesn't matter where you are so long your prospects can reach you, right, you could be working from home, selling globally, you could be in Lisbon and selling globally. Portugal, Lisbon, beautiful place.
00:31:41 - 00:32:54
Yeah. And I experimented with digital nomad about three years ago and I experimented with how it would work and I discovered a few things along the way that we're really, really important. Number one, you really can't travel and work and travel and work and keep, you gotta have a hub. You need to make sure you've got a hub. So that was one thing I learned was moving all the time was one stressful. And to the other part is that getting, making sure had a good internet connection to have video calls and video text getting better because we can do it on, you know, slower and slower lines, but the right, you know, the speed increases of the internet obviously going up. In fact, I had a little bit slow on my wireless here at the home office. So I said, but I'll actually just switch to 5G on my phone, which is actually much faster. Yeah. So this is what's really exciting is that you can design a life and business or design a business for your life rather than actually having a life designed by a business.
00:32:55 - 00:32:58
That is correct and the tools are out there.
00:32:58 - 00:32:58
00:32:59 - 00:33:39
And again, it's like with video conversations, it doesn't really matter where you are so long you give your prospect the ability to reach you and you are responsive to them because that's what people want and then if you are in a video conversation, your personality can shine through, you build that legitimacy and trust, you can leverage existing outbound channels to create a presence and a brand image for you so that people find you. And then if you keep your customers happy, the referrals will get you the growth.
00:33:39 - 00:34:03
Exactly the word of mouth is certainly still alive and real. Yeah. So just to wrap it up Aleks, what are some of the top tips you've learned along the way in terms of taking an idea, something in your imagination, acting on it and turning into something that is real and tangible? What are some of the top tips for people that are thinking of starting a side hustle and a startup?
00:34:05 - 00:35:56
So couple of things. I mean you said the basic ones, right, starts with an MVP. Validate the problem and all of that. So these are, everybody knows this. And then these are the first five things that every business school and an entrepreneurship class will tell you. So I'm not gonna tell you those. The only way I'm gonna summarize that is there are a lot of good ideas. Only a smaller subset is good business idea. Only a smaller subset is a good business idea for a given team and individual because of their skills. And on the small subset of that is a good business idea for a startup because only somebody like Apple could build an iPhone, right? Three people in the garage could not have done that when that happened, right?
So that's one thing. But after that, it's all about the team, the trust among the team members because it's definitely will have its challenges. It's never everything is rosy. It's almost never anything is rosy. You are in this fog and you can barely see the outside and that means it's perseverance and resilience. So because it's always gonna take longer than you thought. So those are the things that you have to bring to the table. But then tying it back to some best practices. Yes, you need to make the market aware of your solution. And when people come to you, then you need to be willing to talk to them and interact with them and impress and keep your prospects and customers happy.
00:35:57 - 00:36:24
And I love what your product does. And as we were chatting my, I was having a few wheels turning in my head and so congratulations on taking something from imagination to creation and executing. And I look forward to seeing you guys keep on growing rapidly and maybe we'll catch up in a year and see where you're up to.
00:36:24 - 00:37:00
That would be perfect. And then I hope that some of the people who listen to this will come to our website 11Sight.com. That's spelled 11Sight.com and then they can use the discount code Bullas10 to sign up. Then we can even report to you that hey this, your audience. So many of them are now actually some of our users and we can tell you maybe we can even invite one of them to this conversation. They can then actually talk about how they use the solution to increase the success of their side hustle or their business.
00:37:00 - 00:37:31
I think we could have a separate conversation around that for the side hustlers to get them excited, inspired about how they can live and how they can work, how they can design their business for their life, which is what a lot of us do, a lot of very successful but unhappy people and that's what we want to try and do is help them become happy. Yes, okay, Aleks, has been an absolute pleasure mate. Yeah, and look forward to catching up one day whether it's in Istanbul or in Bay Area maybe so.
00:37:32 - 00:37:33
00:37:33 - 00:37:35
Thanks for your time, it's been awesome.
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