Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hi, I’m Robin, the founder of SmartCue – a demo automation platform to help software sales teams create personalized demo libraries and close deals faster.
I have a computer science degree from India (2003) and an MBA from Willamette University in Salem, Oregon (2010). Post my MBA, I spent 10+ years with startups of various sizes, all in the B2B SaaS space selling to Enterprise clients, mostly in the US.
As founder & CEO of SmartCue, I wear all the hats you can imagine – CEO, CMO, CHRO, CFO, and the office errand boy! SmartCue, on the other hand, plays a particular role for enterprise sales teams – helping them create a repository or library of personalized product demos that will help them close their deals faster.
We currently have 10+ pilots running, both free and paid, and are getting rave reviews for SmartCue and how it is adding value to our buyers.
What’s your backstory, and how did you come up with the idea?
In my previous role as a Solutions Consultant or Solutions Architect, my team and I were responsible for sales training, which has now transformed into the buzzy term Sales Enablement.
It was just plain Sales Training or Sales Readiness back then. But even then, I watched sales reps struggle to do justice to our products with their vanilla, cookie-cutter demos and pitches.
My team and I implemented several solutions, whether LMS solutions like Highspot or tools like Reprise or HelpHero. Still, none of them worked in ensuring that we had consistent product demos tailored to the buyer’s pain point.
The big aha moment for me was when I heard one of the reps say, “These efficiency tools & processes don’t help me at all. They only add friction to my workflow! And we sales folks live & die by the quarter, so how do you expect us to adopt these tools if they don’t help us now!?”
Fast forward to 2020 – the pandemic hit, and virtual selling has become so much more commonplace. A side effect of virtual selling was that sales reps could take no longer just wine & dine or schmooze their prospects. They had a short 30-minute Zoom call to convince their prospects that their solution or product solves the prospect’s pain points. And NOW – the Product HAD to shine! Product demos were now an even more critical piece in the sales process.
That essentially was the perfect storm for me to try and solve this problem of standardized yet personalized product demos. I went back to first principles, and rather than complicating what I needed to solve, I realized that I needed to make it extremely easy for the sales rep to deliver product demos. That’s when it all clicked for me – if we are to build any efficient product for the sales teams, the bedrock needs to be – Reduce or eliminate friction in the sales reps’ workflow. And that’s what culminated in SmartCue.
Take us through the process of building the first version of your product.
Building SmartCue was (and continues to be!) quite the adventure. As a startup founder, I quickly learned that there are many sleepless nights, and coffee becomes your best friend. But it was all worth it when we finally launched our product.
The process began with a lot of market research and customer interviews (100+ interviews with sales leaders!). We wanted to understand the pain points of B2B sales teams and what they were looking for in a demo software.
We also wanted to ensure that our product would stand out from the competition. That’s when the idea for SmartCue was born. We realized that personalizing demo experiences for each prospect can impact sales teams and their closure rates.
Next came the prototyping phase, where we had a lot of fun. We got to play around with different features and designs.
One of my personal favorites was when we tested a feature that would make a virtual unicorn appear during the demo – an inside joke of how we’re on our way to becoming a unicorn and can help our customers get there as well 😛. It was a hit with our team, but unfortunately, it didn’t make the final cut, which was also obvious!
But it was a good reminder that you have to be willing to experiment and have fun as a startup founder.
Finally, we had to take care of the legal stuff, which included incorporation, regulations, tax filings, and all that jazz. It was a bit of a headache, but it’s all part of the startup life. It was not an inexpensive process, but we managed to secure funding through personal savings and some small checks from angel investors.
I’m excited to see how B2B sales teams will use SmartCue to close more deals. It’s a dream come true for me as a startup founder, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds for SmartCue.
Describe the process of launching the business.
We officially launched SmartCue on ProductHunt in September 2022. And it was quite the experience!
As a solo founder, I had to wear many hats, one of them being the “marketing team.” I quickly realized that I needed to get creative if I wanted to stand out. First, I knew I had to build a community before the launch. So, I diligently kept my close friends and family updated about our imminent launch through my monthly newsletter and had clear asks from all of them. Secondly, I knew I needed to get a strong ‘hunter’ to launch us and was over the moon when Kevin William David (one of the OG hunters on ProductHunt) agreed to hunt us!
I also reached out to my network, including friends, family, and even former classmates from high school (yes, I dug that deep). I asked them to upvote, comment, and share my product on launch day.
On launch day, I woke up early, made my coffee, and started refreshing the ProductHunt page every five seconds. It was nerve-wracking, but I knew it was worth it. And then it happened, SmartCue hit the front page and became Product of the Day! I couldn’t believe it, I felt like a rockstar. My friends and family kept their promise and helped me to get there.
In retrospect, I did a few things that helped me stand out on ProductHunt. One of them was to build a buzz before the launch, which helped me to attract early adopters. Secondly, I reached out to my network, which helped me to get more upvotes and shares on launch day. And lastly, I promised virtual unicorns, which helped me to stand out and be remembered by the ProductHunt community.
I wrote in detail about it here and created a playbook to launch and become Product of the Day on PH.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Since the launch of SmartCue, we have found that building a strong community, developing a personal brand for the founder, and being authentic in our outreach has been key to attracting and retaining customers.
Building a strong community has been crucial to the success of SmartCue. We have prioritized engaging with our customers, understanding their needs and pain points, and using that feedback to improve our product.
We have also actively fostered a sense of community among our users by creating a Substack newsletter to keep folks updated, a public product roadmap for our customers to influence the product, and a Customer Advisory group on Slack where they can share tips, ask questions, and provide feedback. This has helped to create a loyal customer base and increase word-of-mouth marketing.
In addition, developing a personal brand for the founder has also been an essential factor in attracting customers. On my Youtube channel, by being transparent and open about my journey as a solo founder, I have been able to connect with my target audience on a personal level. This has helped to create trust and credibility with potential customers, which has led to more sales.
I’ve also tried hard to be authentic in my outreach. While it is hard and time-consuming, I made it a point to personalize my outreach and tailor it to each prospect’s specific needs and pain points. This has helped to increase the effectiveness of our sales efforts and build stronger relationships with our customers.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Lots of things are happening at SmartCue! We’re growing fast – from a customer standpoint and an employee standpoint! We launched SmartCue on ProductHunt in September and were pumped about being Product of the Day. We’re also raising a pre-seed round, so potential angels hit me up!
We’ve also signed on a bunch of new clients over the past 2-3 months and are gearing up for some fantastic stuff from a product perspective next year – we’re building functionality to continue to make a sales rep’s life easier more efficient and to help them close deals faster!
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Building a team as a solo founder is a process and it may take some time to find the right fit. Don’t be afraid to try out different approaches and be open to learning and adapting as you go.
First thing I realized was — don’t be afraid to delegate. Just because you’re the boss doesn’t mean you have to do everything yourself. Delegating tasks will free up your time and energy to focus on the things that only you can do. And remember, your team is there to help – they’re not just there to fetch you coffee (unless they volunteered for it, in which case, go ahead and delegate that task too).
Also, be open to different perspectives and approaches. As a solo founder, you’ve probably developed your way of doing things, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only way. Be open to hearing new ideas and approaches from your team – it’s like having a group of superheroes with different powers working towards the same goal.
And lastly, make sure you have a clear vision and mission for your business. This will help your team understand what you’re working towards and how they can contribute. And don’t be afraid to share your vision and mission with your team – it can help build a sense of ownership and commitment to the success of the business. Plus, it’s always good to have a little bit of “why” behind the “what” – just like how the Avengers had to save the world from Thanos (sorry, I had to throw in another pop culture reference).
So, to sum it up, building a team as a solo founder is all about delegation, open-mindedness, and having a clear vision. With the right approach, you can bring together a dynamic and talented team that will help your business soar. Just don’t forget to have a little fun along the way – after all, building a business is a journey, not a sprint (unless you’re in a hurry to save the world from an alien invasion, in which case, go ahead and sprint). Good luck!
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Our stack at SmartCue is pretty standard for a lot of startups our size:
Stripe – for payment processing
Intercom – for customer support, knowledge base, and live chat support
Webflow – for our website
AWS – for our cloud hosting needs
Figma – for all our design collaboration
Microsoft Clarity & Mixpanel – for user behavior and insights into our user’s journey
Hubspot – as our CRM
Google Suite – for email and productivity (slide, sheets, docs)
TL;DV – for meeting recording and transcription
As we grow, we hope to be able to use ZoomInfo, Gong, and LinkedIn Sales Navigator for our Go-To-Market motion so we can target, analyze and reach out to folks in an effective manner.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Currently reading – Hard Things About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz and On The Road by Jack Kerouac (little bit of wanderlust)
Tuesdays with Morrie – Mitch Albom
Born To Run – Chris MacDougall
Sapiens & Homo Deus – Yuval Noah Harari
Forty Rules of Love – Elif Shafak
Atlas Shrugged – Ayn Rand
Ride of a Lifetime – Bob Iger
Favorite Podcast Episode – Naval on Joe Rogan’s podcast;
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Being a solo founder can be intimidating. I’m the one driving the ship, and many days, it feels like a lot of pressure to make it all work. But after almost 2 years at it, I think it’s possible to build a strong business, even as a solo founder.
One of the key things I’ve learned is that I can’t wait for opportunities to come to me – I have to go out and create them myself. Whether it is reaching out to potential partners or customers, networking at events, or exploring new channels and markets.
Another important tip is to stay focused and prioritize your tasks. As a solo founder, you’re wearing many hats, and it can be easy to get overwhelmed. That’s why it’s essential to set clear goals and priorities and focus on the tasks that will significantly impact your business. And don’t be afraid to delegate or outsource tasks that you’re not skilled at or don’t have the time for – it will free up your time and energy to focus on what you’re good at.
And lastly, feel free to ask for help or seek out mentors or advisors. When I started as a solo founder, I hesitated to ask for help because I thought it made me look weak. But the truth is, no one has all the answers, and it’s okay to ask for guidance or advice. It can be one of the best things you can do for your business.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We’re growing and hiring aggressively! All our positions are listed on Angel.
Where can we go to learn more?
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Founder of SmartCue
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