Last year, I signed up for an eight-week-long course on entrepreneurship. Most of my classmates were aspiring entrepreneurs – many of them techies who had already taken the plunge into the #startup pool and were finding it tough to paddle.
The first task assigned to us was to sell an idea to someone. Make that someone pay INR 1,000 (US$15) for that idea you were selling. That’s roughly the amount you would spend if you make a trip to Starbucks or the local multiplex for a movie with your partner. But I failed. Not once or twice, but five times. And most of my classmates failed as well.
That was our first lesson. To understand how tough it is to sell.
You might have built the most amazing tech tool that could transform business, but if you or your sales team cannot sell it, your company will die. The swiftness of death might be determined by the money you have in the bank, but die it will.
This gets even scarier for startups building innovative tech products for other businesses. To sell a new product that the market hasn’t seen the likes of, carpet bombing won’t work.
PipeCandy helps sales executives find the right prospects and segment them based on industry-specific criteria.
Here’s where artificial intelligence comes in handy. Say you have an AI tool for ecommerce companies. From the thousands of ecommerce companies out there, you have to shortlist the ones who are most likely to be receptive to buying tech muscle. Within those companies, you have to find the right person with tech knowhow to understand your product and the power to make the decision to buy it. This is what PipeCandy does.
It helps sales executives find the right prospects and segment them based on industry-specific criteria. It tracks over 50,000 companies in ecommerce, retail, mobile, and software-as-a-service verticals currently.
“We collect deep attributes of these companies and uncover industry-specific insights which are relevant for sales execs and reps. This will increase response rates for them,” Ashwin Ramasamy, co-founder and chief marketing officer of PipeCandy, tells Tech in Asia.
The company, founded by Shrikanth Jagannathan, Murali Vivekanandan, and Ashwin, recently raised US$1.1 million in seed capital from IDG Ventures, Axilor Ventures, Emergent Ventures, Indian Angel Network, and a few entrepreneurs. The year-and-a-half-old company announced the round today.
A couple of days back, IDG and Axilor announced a new program to find and fund deep tech startups. PipeCandy fits in well.
The data edge
Let’s stay with that earlier example of an AI tool for ecommerce companies. The usual data provider for sales execs would probably tell you: here are 10,000 ecommerce companies; here are the names of their CEOs/CTOs, emails, and phone numbers. Now go figure.
Outbound prospecting, one of the most crucial steps in enterprise sales, continues to be archaic, manual, and largely hit-and-miss.
Here’s how PipeCandy would be different. “We would say, here’re 10,000 ecommerce companies. These 70 percent of them have over 1 million traffic. These ones have recently raised capital. These 10 companies have some AI plugins which could work with your tool. These already have a similar tool running [which would mean you might have to unseat a competitor]. They sell these many stock keeping units and have an offline presence, which means your other tech products might be relevant to them as well,” Ashwin explains.
Ganapathy Venugopal, co-founder and CEO of Axilor Ventures backing PipeCandy, puts it in context: “Outbound prospecting, one of the most crucial steps in enterprise sales, continues to be archaic, manual, and largely hit-and-miss. PipeCandy’s solutions bring the combined power of data sciences and automation to improve relevance, personalization, and ultimately conversions,” he says.
PipeCandy’s data science team is its edge. The team looks at public data from around the web about the companies it tracks. “With each company, we check their website and app every week to take note of changes, what are the items they sell, are there any tech tools that they have added, and so on. We index all of it. When a client comes to us, we can give him data as fresh as of last week,” Ashwin says.
For the commodity data – the name of the person to contact, phone number, email, and so on – PipeCandy partners with other companies who are already selling it in the market. “We build intelligent data on top of it,” Ashwin says.
Ashwin’s co-founder and PipeCandy’s chief data scientist Shrikanth was heading customer analytics for multinational IT corporate Capgemini for five years. He heads the startup’s five-member data science team. Ashwin had earlier founded mobile app development marketplace ContractIQ and Murali was the founder of two startups, Ideas2IT and Radaptive. Shrikanth and Ashwin are collegemates from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Madras. Murali’s Ideas2IT was a mentor for ContractIQ and that’s how the three of them connected.
All three of them have felt the pinch of sales prospecting acutely in their earlier roles. That prompted them to pool their savings to start PipeCandy.
The seed capital raised will go into growing PipeCandy’s AI and data science muscles further. “We want to go wider within the verticals we are tracking. Also, we want to go deeper with the kind of insights we gather. For example, we want to be able to say, this guy said this and this on Twitter and now is the right time to connect to him for sales. We want to do that level of person-specific insights,” Ashwin says.
PipeCandy is based in Chennai, India’s SaaS capital. While nearly half of the startup’s 45 paying clients are in the US, many of the SaaS heroes of Chennai selling tech products to the world – Freshdesk, Chargebee, and Zarget to name a few – are also on the PipeCandy roster.