Jorge: What is your professional background and how did you get into startups?
Aman: I’ve been in CRM startups since I was 19 and started my first company when I was 20. The reasons were a combination of my skills as a programmer since I was 12, my creative and artistic aptitude, and the dire need to pay for the expensive college tuition of an international student.
Later I attended Stanford in the computer science department and startup culture was in the DNA there. I started my 2nd enterprise company with other classmates from Stanford but it was around a time when enterprise was not cool — unlike today.
My professional background ranges from enterprise companies like IBM and Oracle where I designed and built a lot of their CRM systems to startups in the open government, electronic trading, and database space. I like to invent out of all problems; thus, startups are an ideal space for me.
Jorge: How did the Spiderbook founding team meet and what inspired you to build the product?
Aman: I have known the founding team either from previous startups, jobs or college. I met Alan, my cofounder, when I joined Oracle post the dot-com fiasco. Alan ran IT for all their internal applications and I was responsible for building sales applications that Oracle sales and marketing would actually bother to use.
I met Seth, our chief data scientist, while I was back at Stanford University for the 2nd time and studying the effects of social networks like Facebook on politics. Seth and his group at Stanford are the experts in social networks in the Computer Science department and I sat in on some of his classes. Sarah, our product designer, and I have worked previously in another startup I co-founded called TopCorner.
After building and implementing dozens of conventional CRM products at many customers, we came to the realization that CRM isn’t actually useful for sales people. It was built for management, reporting, and visibility — not to create or manage customer relationships. After seeing firsthand how profoundly users disliked all the conventional CRM apps, we became really motivated to build something useful and valuable for the salesperson.
Jorge: What does “sales” mean?
Aman: For me, sales means investment. I don’t think many people look at it that way. I look at sales as an investment in customers. When I am selling, I think of how I can maximize my portfolio by identifying and creating business relationships that could make my customers succeed.
The only way, I can succeed is if my customers succeed. Sales for me is identifying, nurturing, collaborating, and doing everything else to make my customers successful. It goes way beyond closing the deal and getting a commission.
Jorge: How do you see selling evolving moving forward?
Aman: Selling has been rapidly changing over the last few years.There has been a massive shift since the days when you could just walk into a client and talk about your solution and ask to do a discovery project. That was sales in the 90’s.
Today, customers want solutions to their unique problems. No one has generic problems because otherwise they would not be in business. All business, or at least the successful ones, are unique and have unique challenges, problems and opportunities. I think customers are smarter now. They have more information than ever about who they do business with and can therefore be very selective.
According to a Gartner report last year, 56% of all sales are decided by the customer before they have spoken to any salesperson. That is very different than sales ten years ago. I think selling is a social process like dating and more and more of it is going to be reliant on big data, trust networks like LinkedIn, and the ability to leverage your partners and customers to get the next deal.
I also believe that a lot of simple selling where the product is standardized is going to be on low touch electronic marketplaces like Etsy or Salesforce AppExchange, and new ones to come. Complex solutions will still require salespeople but they will be a very different, more McKinsey-style consultative, type of sale with people who are also focused on customer success, not just selling.
The selling tools and platforms are also going to evolve from being focused on the sales manager and reporting to more end-user centric and much more data-driven. There is also a general trend towards consumerization of enterprise apps though SaaS business models, better user interfaces, and I believe that is good and valuable for the future.
Jorge: What is Spiderbook and how does it work?
Aman: Spiderbook is a connected network of every company in the world including their customers, partners, suppliers and people involved in those deals. We utilize this network to help sales people identify: who to sell to, how to reach them using their existing network, what’s the competitive landscape, and what conversations to have to help close the deal. We can connect the dots where it is just not possible for humans to do by hand. We can also discover net new qualified leads utilizing our network and provide an action plan to close them.
In a way, Spiderbook works like a cross between the NSA and an oil refinery process. Spiderbook crawls billions of documents, which we consider crude input, and uses Natural Language Processing over billions of documents like press releases, blogs, facebook posts, SEC filings, job posts, etc to build its network. Spiderbook refines the data by doing semantic analysis of text, identify companies, business relationships, products, and then deduplicating, augmenting and curating all this information automatically into a single valuable, usable graph. Then it utilizes graph algorithms and machine learning over hundreds of signals to identify the best leads, most probable paths to close a deal, and social selling.
Jorge: What is your target market; more enterprise, mid-market, or SMB companies?
Aman: Everyone who does consultative and sophisticated sales can use our product. We have users from SMB, mid-market, and enterprise.
It is most useful to folks who are selling to the enterprise and mid-market but they can be from SMB as well. So it depends on who our users are selling to rather than the size of our user’s company.
Jorge: Who is your ideal user?
Aman: Our ideal user is someone who needs in-depth understanding of their customers. Someone who is looking for that extra edge in a highly competitive environment. Generally those deals are also $100k+ and require deeper understanding of their prospects business, the competitive landscape, and the business network.
For our lead discovery product, we want to identify sales and marketing users who want a small but highly targeted set of qualified leads based on online and offline behaviors rather than just a list of names to email blast.
Jorge: What 3rd party integrations do you currently support?
Jorge: What has been the most challenging part of building a B2B startup and what advice would you give an early startup founder?
Aman: B2B startups are now in fashion but they go in and out of fashion every 5 years. There are tons of opportunities in B2B because larger companies that dominate the space are as slow as molasses with decade old technology, crude user interfaces, and inability to move fast.
Entrepreneurs can build really valuable products that help businesses using the latest technologies but also simpler, more flexible, more usable versions of their enterprise counterpart products. That itself is valuable because users categorically disdain using enterprise products due to bad design. So my advice would be to build something valuable to users and not worry about fads and even technology trends.
The most challenging part of B2B startups is actually selling. Sales cycles are long, require lots of investments, and experts, and are dependent on lots of complex factors. We are building Spiderbook to alleviate this pain and make B2B startups more feasible and effective. That is one of the principle motivations behind Spiderbook.