Robin Singhvi is the Founder of SmartCue, a smart sales effectiveness platform that helps sales teams deliver personalized product demos and close deals faster.
Robin spent over a decade in the US B2B SaaS space as a sales and solutions leader, playing the quarterback between sales and product teams to develop and execute the best solutions for customers and key stakeholders.
He built up the muscle memory to identify prospect needs and accelerate deal cycles. Robin has demonstrated success at driving high-value, complex, strategic partnerships with multiple stakeholders and teams in a highly matrixed environment.
Robin has a computer science degree from India (2003) and an MBA from Willamette University in Salem, Oregon (2010). Post his MBA, he spent 10+ years with startups of various sizes, all in the B2B SaaS space selling to Enterprise clients, mostly in the US. His roles at these companies were primarily at the intersection of sales & product.
What you will learn
- What inspired Robin to start his business SmartCue
- The marketing strategies SmartCue relies on for growth
- Discover why Robin does not use any paid advertising
- Learn why customer retention is key to your business
- Find out who the perfect customer is for SmartCue
- Robin shares his best tips for people thinking about starting a business
- Discover why finding a co-founder could be critical for your startup
00:00:07 - 00:00:19
Hi everyone and welcome to The Jeff Bullas Show. Today I have with me, Robin Singhvi. Now, I've maybe got that not quite right. How do you actually pronounce it?
00:00:20 - 00:00:24
You actually got it right, Jeff. It is Robin Singhvi, it's as easy as it seems.
00:00:24 - 00:02:18
Okay. I'm so glad I nailed that. So why am I talking to Robin? Because he's actually the founder of SmartCue, which is about smart sales effectiveness platform that helps sales teams deliver personalized product demos and close deals faster. We live in a world of virtual reality in essence where you can't turn up to the same room and we're trying to sell 24/7 to a global audience. Robin spent over a decade in the US B2B SaaS space as a sales and solution leader playing the quarterback and we may need to explain that to the rest of the world because that's a very USA term, between sales and product teams to develop and execute the best solutions for customers and key stakeholders. It built up the muscle memory to identify prospect and accelerate deal cycles in a 24/7 virtual world. Robin has demonstrated success at dropping high value, complex, strategic partnerships with multiple stakeholders and teams in a highly matrix environment. I quite like the movie Matrix actually, by the way. Robin has a computer science degree. I don't have a degree anywhere near that. I did a teaching degree, he did that in India in 2003 and has an MBA from Willamette University in Salem, Oregon. After his MBA, he spent 10 plus years with startups of various sizes in all the B2B software as a service space selling to enterprise clients, most in the US. His roles at that these companies are primarily at the intersection of sales of product.
Welcome to the show, Robin.
00:02:19 - 00:02:35
Thank you for having me Jeff. You know, you got my name right but, you know, we need to correct the name of my alma mater here. So it's Willamette, right. And the way we explain it to people is it's Willamette dammit. So it's easy to remember. How about that?
00:02:36 - 00:02:47
I like the actual go to and that obviously because well Willamette dammit is actually a go to phrase that you use because no one actually can take it correctly.
00:02:47 - 00:02:50
Perhaps, that's probably true.
00:02:51 - 00:03:05
So, number one question, why did you start SmartCue? Because, was that inspiration or was it desperation?
00:03:06 - 00:04:59
Yeah, that's a great question. And, you know, the honest answer, Jeff, is that I lived through the problem that I'm trying to solve for today with SmartCue. Like you said, you know, I spent 10 plus years selling to enterprise clients in the B2B space and at these companies, you know, my role was at the intersection of sales and products. So part of my team's responsibility was to ensure that sales teams had all the info and ammunition to do a great demo to provide them to collaterals and assets that they need to move a deal along. We did all that, but we still ended up seeing that reps were showcasing sort of the same vanilla, cookie cutter, one size fits all demo, to their prospects, and that was very underwhelming. The second thing that happened was the pandemic hit in 2020, right? And now, the reps did not have the luxury of going out meeting their prospects in person, establishing a rapport and perhaps using that to move a deal along faster. So that really was the perfect storm and the inspiration, so to say, for me to start SmartCue where you have these two constraints now, you're selling complex products that are ever evolving and you are limited by a, perhaps impersonal cold medium through which you still have to ensure that you're making that sale. How do you equip sales reps and sales teams to be able to do that faster and still hit quota. That's what led us to SmartCue.
00:05:00 - 00:05:41
Okay, so you're working for companies, you have this like, aha moment about, how do we do this? So, did you do this as side hustle? Did you, like go, I need to develop this on the side while I'm working at the company or do you go, I'm just gonna dive off the deep end and start this company, I'm going to spend tons of money on developers. So you got this insight, okay, so that's the call, right, what's next?
00:05:42 - 00:07:57
Yeah, so it was a little bit of the ladder, right, Jeff, where I felt that the problem was urgent enough to be solved, that I couldn't solve it, doing it as a side hustle, you know, I was lucky that, you know, having spent about 10 plus years working at various startups, we had a few successful exits as well, so I could afford to kind of just take a step back and and put all of my energies into building SmartCue, right, even so, you know, I've learned this lesson from a lot of my former bosses and leaders is how do you stay lean? I think that's helped me in good stead, especially given the current market situation, right, so we have a very, very lean team right from day one. And even before we started building the product, I actually took it upon myself to have at least 100 conversations with folks who I thought were my buyers, right. I went to them and said that, hey, you know what, this is the problem that I'm trying to solve and this is how I’m intending to solve it, is this a problem for you? Is this a big enough problem for you? And would you pay for someone to solve this problem? Only when I had some initial validation that I actually, you know, start putting together the initial MVP of SmartCue and then tried and went out and tried to sell that, which is basically, you know, a bunch of code that I wrote, duct taped together and then presented to some of my prospects. And they're like, yeah, I think this is great, would pay for it. I'm like, well can you pay for it now? And then a few of them did and I used that money essentially to fund the development of the product. And that's, you know, we're trying to keep that ethos in the company that how do you, for as long as possible, make the company client or prospect driven or revenue driven as opposed to investor or funding driven.
00:07:58 - 00:08:03
So, you create a minimal viable product?
00:08:04 - 00:08:05
00:08:06 - 00:08:13
And I've heard a recent, I've actually just made up a recent term on this, minimal testable product.
00:08:14 - 00:08:33
Right. Yeah, I think there's another one, right, is that minimal? Yeah, lovable or I think there's a phrase, I'm blanking out which is that the product that the lowest common denominator that someone will pay for.
00:08:34 - 00:08:41
Okay, so let's think about the term for that actually, minimal playable product.
00:08:42 - 00:08:46
I love that. There you go, you should trademark that.
00:08:47 - 00:09:24
So we got MPP, minimum lovable product, MLP, minimal testable product, minimal viable product. I think we're moving on to a whole bunch of acronyms, right, that we could just nail, right. So okay, so that is really, really cool. Alright, so you've launched it, you've got some people to pay for it. Now, what's intriguing to me is what data did you use to actually work out that it's working?
00:09:25 - 00:09:42
You know, it was pretty rudimentary. Honestly, it was that, you know, I have a few people that have paid for it. I have a spreadsheet of people who said yes, this is interesting. Yes, this is a problem. And yes, I would pay for it.
00:09:42 - 00:09:49
You go straight to MIP, minimal interesting product.
00:09:49 - 00:10:04
Yeah, sure. We could, perhaps, you know, and if I had all these acronyms earlier, perhaps I could have, you know, I could have just sold that and raised a bunch more money. But I didn't meet Jeff sooner.
00:10:05 - 00:10:24
No problem. I'm just actually tossing acronyms into the equation. Okay, so you started, so you created a product that people are actually using. What next?
00:10:25 - 00:13:57
Yeah, so we deployed the product in its initial duct taped form to a few of our initial clients and it bombed, right, the promise that we sold to what we actually delivered was very different, you know, it's the unfortunate reality. But what it allowed us to do is get some really good insights into how our customers intended to use our product. What is their expectations from a product that is in their sales stack and then what do we need to do to meet those expectations, right. So, you know, as a timeline, this is early January, February when we implemented this early version of our product with some of our clients, it bombed, it failed. We, you know, got feedback, I want to say around April, May, June time frame. 2022, correct, yes. And then for context, I incorporated the company in October 2021. So just over a year now, and so we got all this insight and then we completely re-architected the product right, because we got insights like that. This is a product that I intend to use when I'm doing a virtual demo live for a prospect. So it cannot crash, great insight, right, so it's like, you know, even if it's a minimum viable product, it still had to have that level of stability to gain the confidence of a rep who is going to use it when they're doing live product demos, right. So, that was the first thing and then they're like, well these are the other tools that I use and this is how I use them. And the learning we got there was that nowadays a lot of reps use Chrome extensions, the Chrome browser has a bunch of extensions in there. They use them because that's just in their workflow because they're showing web based products, they want to record a call, they want to transcribe a call, they want to get intelligence about their prospects, all of that. They tend to do, you know, in the browser itself. So we're like instead of the version that we had prior, which required a bunch of installation and doing a lot of jumping through a lot of hoops before you actually start using it. We needed something that was right there that fit into the reps existing workflow. So we scrapped everything that we had, we built a really simple, really light Chrome extension with the North Star being that it has to be extremely stable. It cannot crash when folks are using it, for their prospect demos. So, those are some of the learnings that we got and, post that, you know, we launched it out again. We officially launched the product to the world in September of this year. We launched on product hunt, which is a pretty well known marketplace or discovery platform for a lot of early stage companies. We launched on there, we’re product of the day in September and that is sort of what we're trying to ride at this moment where we got a lot of inbounds, we're trying to run a bunch of pilots and then go through that second round of feedback and insights from our customers.
00:13:56 - 00:14:06
So, have you funded this totally from your own capital? Or you've actually gone to the market and going, here's a minimal viable product, fund us.
00:14:07 - 00:14:56
Again the ladder, right. So the initial product was funded by myself. Once we got a little validation, once we saw a couple of a few customers pay for it. That's when I went out and raised a very small pre-seed round. I intentionally went out to an accelerator as opposed to like a traditional VC, the idea being that, you know, I'm a solo founder, a first time founder. So, in addition to the money, I actually really need guidance, help, mentorship, connections, network to really help me make this into a successful scalable business. So we did that and we raised a very small pre-seed round earlier in the year.
00:14:57 - 00:15:10
So, a little bit more about your startup, how do I reach out to the world as such, generate leads and get people into my sales funnel?
00:15:11 - 00:16:35
Well, isn't that the million dollar question that whether your startup or, you know, an established company you have, right, I mean their go to market. Exactly, right, you know, there may be nuances, but I think go to the market is a universal problem that everyone is trying to solve in a similar manner. So for us, it was that, okay, you don't have marketing dollars, you can't like throw a bunch of money and ads and things like that. So what are the things you can do? So launching a product actually was one such organic sort of viral way of getting out into the market and getting the attention on eyeballs of our prospects, right, so I think product gets like a few million views a day and we kind of just, you know, put our bets on the fact that, you know, launching product content will get a bunch of warm inbound increase from that. Of course, we're running the traditional email marketing funnels, I'm trying to write a bunch of content that helps people discover SmartCue and Robin is the founder of SmartCue. So we're doing all of that, but it is still an amorphous ongoing activity that we're thinking through and coming up with new ideas every day.
00:16:36 - 00:16:59
So, the challenging part of a setup is, I need to pay for attention or I need to actually earn attention. In other words, who are the partners that are leading into to help you get interest and attention that is not paid for?
00:17:00 - 00:18:24
Yes. So as a matter of fact, you know, getting on and being invited to podcasts like yours, Jeff, is an interesting approach that we're taking, where we know that a lot of our target audiences listen to you. They read what you have to say, they hear what you have to say. And then if I have a conversation with you, if I establish myself as someone who is visible in all of these places where sales leaders, product marketing leaders hang out, that I think is an interesting way for us to gain attention, right, we've been writing a lot, we've been reaching out to blogs and publications and communities that cater to our target market to try and gain attention, right. And then finally, I think community building, right, so we're part of things like the presales collective, there's the sales enablement collective and other communities over Slack or otherwise, where we're going in and trying engaging with folks. They're having right discussions and using that to garner, you know, a genuine conversation as opposed to forcing a conversation.
00:18:25 - 00:18:45
So it raises the question to a little bit about marketing. So, you can either lean into referral marketing, which is like myself, I can lean into paid. Have you used any paid advertising as well?
00:18:45 - 00:19:55
Zero paid advertising. That's by design, I feel that, one there is the obvious drawback that we have that we can't compete with the big guns out there dollar for dollar. But more interestingly, we don't want to force ourselves in front of customers or in front of people who may or may not want to engage with us. We want to create valuable, interesting content and conversations that will invite and attract the kind of people that we want to engage with, right, so we're putting a lot of energy and effort into creating thought leadership content, whether it's, you know, blog posts or conversations like this or having webinars and talking to industry leaders to sort of attract the right set of audience. So, definitely all organic and no paid is the current focus. We'll see how, you know, that scales over a quarter or two.
00:19:55 - 00:19:59
So how important is content to you?
00:20:00 - 00:20:44
Extremely, right, extremely important because that's the only way that I can see folks discovering SmartCue and Robin, right, otherwise, you know, how do you establish confidence in people that hey, you know what, I'm trying to solve a problem for my sales team, why should I trust Robin? Why should I go with SmartCue? And the only way you can do that is putting out content that folks will consume, will resonate with and then as a result, come back to you for your expertise and hopefully then for your product that you're selling.
00:20:45 - 00:20:48
So what you're trying to do is create credibility through your content?
00:20:49 - 00:20:51
00:20:52 - 00:21:05
So in terms of what you're trying to do, what next steps to make sure that SmartCue is the place to go?
00:21:06 - 00:22:31
Yes, so one is doubling down on the current initiatives that we've started, we will really double down on content, visibility, and organic. We also, we will start to tap some of the traditional channels we're looking to hire an SDR, we're looking to, you know, set up our email marketing platforms, do a lot more in LinkedIn where we know that a lot of our prospects live, and of course we're trying to build in a lot of referral and virality loops inside the product itself, right, because once people come in, once they have experienced the product and once they really like what they see, we want to enable these loyal or champion users to be able to invite other folks onto the platform. I think there is no better, cheaper and more effective way to get clients and retain clients rather than, you know, a warm referral from someone your prospects trust, right, so we're doing that obviously and, you know, all of that of course requires a lot of capital. So we are actually in the process of raising our seed round, so we're hoping to sort of, we've started now and we're hoping to close by March or April next year.
00:22:31 - 00:22:59
So seed round action funding, so you initially funded it from yourself? They're going okay, so we test a hypothesis and good enough. So what's, so how do you test what you do is actually worth doubling down on?
00:23:00 - 00:23:06
Yeah. So I think we're just looking at our data, right, our retention data of clients.
00:23:06 - 00:23:08
That is very, very important.
00:23:09 - 00:24:30
Exactly, right. So we can't have people coming in and then just churning out, what we're seeing is people coming in, liking what they see, staying on the platform using it, right. So retention is actually the biggest lever or, you know, the inside that we're looking at and then of course conversations, right. What we're trying to do is as soon as someone on the platform has have as many conversations as possible with them, enabled them, equip them to see value in SmartCue for their own function and business. And then once we see that, you know, we basically are trying to see if we're, if these clients are referenceable, right. They actually give me the name of one or two more people that I could go and talk to, right, I think that is another big check box that we're trying to tick. If we're meeting these two, then we're doing something right. And that was really the idea that, okay, I think we're there with these two conditions, now to, like really go in scale and get hundreds of thousands of people onto the platform. We're gonna need to accelerate all of our go to market activities and for that, you know, we're considering raising a seed.
00:24:30 - 00:24:38
Let me ask another question. Who was your perfect customer?
00:24:39 - 00:26:29
Oh, that's a great question. And, you know, the answer will evolve and has evolved with every conversation I've had, right, because we're still early in the game, right. We're still trying to figure out where and what customer persona are we adding the most value to, right, as of now, where we see ourselves adding most value is if you are a sales leader or a rep at an enterprise software company, selling complex software to other enterprises or other complex buyers, right then with a reasonably sized sales teams and sales processes, then you're a great potential customer for us. An example of an industrial segment is the health tech segment in the US, right, there selling complex products that are complex, not just from a technology or solution point of view, but there are also complex from a clinical perspective that they're solving for their very complex from the compliance perspective that they're solving for and they sell to complex buyers, right. They sell to insurers, they sell to pharmacies, they sell the hospital systems, they sell to large employers and in each of those buyers, there's multiple layers of folks who you have to sell to. So how do you ensure that as a sales team, you are aligned and consistently messaging and showcasing your product in a way that resonates with each of your buyers at every stage. So, right now that's kind of the focus that we have in terms of our target customers in the outreach that we're doing.
00:26:30 - 00:26:52
Cool. So as they start up entrepreneur. What would be some top tips to share with our audience and viewers that you would go, okay, so we decided to do a startup, what's next?
00:26:53 - 00:29:27
Yeah, so and you know, I think I have as a first time solo founder, I have a lot of don't do tips as opposed to do. Because I've made a ton of mistakes as I've sort of grown and built SmartCue. So the first thing is talk to as many people as you can, you have an idea, you're trying to solve it, draw something in the back of a napkin that this is how I'm solving it and go talked about before trying to like jump in, quit your job and start building.
The second thing I would say is that if you can find a co-founder, it's great, there's pros to being a solo founder, like you can take decisions faster, you're not accountable or answerable to a lot of people which gives you velocity and speed, but as a startup founder, there's high highs and extremely low lows and, you know, your spouse or your advisors or your board members, your mentors can always give you advice, but they're not on the journey with you. So they're not living it with you. So having a co-founder or two always helps, I think, and if I ever start up again, that is the one thing that I intend to do, like, you know, find someone who you have, like, you know, you're following your vision and you're both aligned on the same path and vision and trying to do it together, right. So those are a couple of things that I would definitely say, and patience, I think is the third and most important thing because you read a lot of glamour stories you read a lot about, you know, startups that have scaled very fast, you're raising a ton of money and it makes you feel small, it makes you feel like inadequate. Exactly, right. And the thing is that, you know, I've had these conversations with a lot of fellow founders and most, if not, all are in the same boat as you are, there's only these sort of outliers who you read about and it's all the glitz and glamour comes from there, but being a startup founders, like it's just a lot of grind, right. That's really what it is, and so, you just need to put your head down, figure out what you're doing, you obviously have faith in what you're building, that's what you decide to take the plunge. Just keep executing right, avoid getting bogged down by all the noise around you.
00:29:28 - 00:29:32
That's really really good. In other words, just enjoy the journey.
00:29:33 - 00:29:34
Try to. Yeah.
00:29:35 - 00:29:47
Just take a day at a time because you have no idea what the next day will follow and you really don't know what techniques you use will work or not.
00:29:48 - 00:29:50
00:29:50 - 00:29:55
So you've got to enjoy, okay, the exploration and curiosity of that.
00:29:56 - 00:29:59
Yes. Very well said, Jeff.
00:30:00 - 00:30:26
So great to have a chat about your journey and I love the indian veterinary experience that I have seen up personal and close. So thank you, Robin, for sharing your story and I look forward to catching up in Bombay or Mumbai.
00:30:26 - 00:30:32
Bombay is what the ogs will call it. Mumbai is what the politicians will call it.
00:30:33 - 00:30:36
Or I'll meet you in Portland, Oregon.
00:30:36 - 00:30:41
Indeed, yes. Or if I ever make the trip out to Sydney, I'll be sure to look you up, Jeff.
00:30:41 - 00:30:46
Well, that's where I am. So thank you, Robin, has been an absolute pleasure mate.
00:30:47 - 00:30:50
Thank you for having me Jeff, it was great.
00:30:51 - 00:30:52
Thanks, bye bye.
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