Vivek Sharma is the Co-Founder and CEO of Movable Ink. Movable Ink has created a marketing solution that helps brands work data into personalized content. Basically, they help businesses leverage their data to help customize content and marketing messages. And it works. Companies who switch from a one-size-fits-all-marketing model to customization tend to see large increases in engagement.
Vivek started his career as an engineer & sales, making him a double threat as a startup founder.
During our chat we discussed the ins and outs of Movable Ink, some important lessons Vivek has learned while growing the company and rapidly increasing headcount, overcoming unpredictable obstacles, his perspective on capitalizing a startup and much more.
Transcript (this is an automated transcript):
MPD: Vivek, what's up man. Thanks for being on the show today.
Vivek Sharma: How’s it going? Glad I get to see you mark.
MPD: Same here. All right let's start this off. Do you mind giving a quick. 30 second background on who you are.
Vivek Sharma: Yeah. I’m Vivek Sharma. I'm the co-founder and CEO of Movable Ink.
I grew up in Massachusetts, lived out in Silicon valley bay area, right after school worked in some interesting companies, Cisco systems. The first year I was out of school, a company called blue martini software, which was a CRM pioneer. I was an engineer. I wrote code a core engineering team, and that was what I did for a bunch of years.
And then a couple of weird left and right terms turns took me into. A sales role in a couple of companies. So diametrically opposite of all of that. And then did that kind of led me some years ago. I think the end of 2010, which is around when we met to start movable ink. And I think we actually met in a precursor of move blank that, that failed thankfully.
So who blanket arise out of the ashes?
MPD: Yeah. Yes you're one of those founders with some scar tissue, but you turn it into something. Fantastic. Awesome. That's the way to do it. You got to fail. You want to give an overview of movable ink, just so people know what we're talking about.
Vivek Sharma: Yeah. So every single business, especially enterprises wants to put the customer at the center of everything, of all their marketing, but people are moving through different steps of their journey through different devices and the channel of their choosing and these big businesses have made investments in.
Organizing their data. And they often have a messaging platform, usually channel specific. So email marketing, SMS, marketing, et cetera. But what they haven't really thought about is that people don't experience data. They experience content. So what's missing is all of these channels. Great targeting great segment.
It doesn't work if everyone's getting a generic piece of content on the other side. So move blank taps into any data source a company, has it activates it. And we generate the perfect personalized content for every individual on the other side of a marketing communication. And we work with some of the biggest companies in the world, 700 of the biggest brands, everyone from E-Trade to Hilton to um, Karma remember which ones I can say and not say we've got every major airline in the U S except for one, we've got five, a largest 10 consumer banks in the world on and on.
So some of the biggest companies you've heard big enterprises enterprise for the most part, but we have a really new and thriving mid-market business as well. So these are the D to C brands, the fast moving companies, the disruptors that are showing up. Okay. So
MPD: could you take the product and break it down just a little bit?
It's customizing the content. Is there a specific channel? Are we talking an email medium or a text? And how does it change?
Vivek Sharma: Started out an email. So the initial premise started on email. A little block of HTML with an image tag inside it. And the moment the email opened, this is like nine, 10 years ago.
We'd be able to detect contextual factors like the weather outside time of day, the device that you're on and tailor the right content for you. We generate the image on the fly and show you that. And then fast forward five or six years later, what we learned was that enterprises have lots of great data assets.
It could be API that they built, it could be CSV files. It could be the dozen data platforms or other marketing technologies. And we tap into all of those. And that's where the real value started to be seen on the mobile platform. And we could generate the perfect loyalty message for you by tapping into crowd quest and showing that, when, when, and an email gets sent out.
And personalized after an ascent, we show you what loyalty tier that's you're on, based on your zip code. There could be a weather based offer. We might know your recent behaviors on the website. You added something to a basket, you search something and that auto-populates into the email. So a million people getting a communication, you get a million perfect unique experiences based on data about them or the state of the business.
And we started out in, yeah, we started on email, but now mobile push notifications. We're powering those, we're doing content marketing content inside mobile, and we're exploring lots of new channels, like SMS landing pages, digital signage on and on.
MPD: And so it sounds like it's less about the real-time adjustment of the content as it might've been in the beginning and more about leveraging the data behind the scenes to customize.
Vivek Sharma: Yeah. If you dig into the marketer's workflow, they spend weeks and months just trying to get the data together, organize it, plan their campaigns. And it, it makes it very hard for them to pivot quickly. So the weeks and months that happened before suddenly you put a piece of content that is sometimes even evergreen in your marketing campaign.
And after it sends somewhere between the send and when it gets. It generates it all pulling from the data sources and assembling the whole thing to be the perfect thing that you see. So it's a big workflow benefit. People save a ton of time and do, and there's a lot of things they don't have to do anymore with once you're using movable ink.
And it's a better customer experience because everything's personalized to that individual in ways that were impossible before.
MPD: What kind of lift do people see when they switched from one size fits all to customization? Is there a kind of an industry standard on how much are, conversion.
Vivek Sharma: Yeah, it completely varies.
We've had companies, elevate the revenue anywhere from 10 to, north of a hundred percent. We've got click-through rates Forrester, total economic impact study 373% increase in engagement. And I believe a 40% reduction in production cycles. And over and over, we see that kind of thing happening with our customers that are seeing more revenue, more orders placed.
Reducing the cycle to assemble assemble emails. And it's also enabling ideas that were never possible before. We have a company that does offers inside. It's a big financial services firm. There was no way they could plug in this API and have millions of versions of an email generated and simply being able to do that was a huge win for this company.
And it, that entire program runs on.
MPD: So you make it sound like this was an easy thing to put together. You guys are a big team and a big. What makes this dynamic use of data so complicated. Why is this so hard for folks?
Vivek Sharma: Yeah the, the, the legacy MarTech companies. It's a pretty complex product.
First, the data sits in all sorts of places. So you'd think we're in a world today where, and we thought this when we first started the company and that's why we didn't focus on a lot of the data companies were already managing because we thought that was a solved problem. It turns out it wasn't, they've got a data warehouse and a CDP and a CRM, and they're still passing around CSV files and their website might be a source of data.
We actually have some technology that can change a webpage into a restful API. So all the stuff is scattered in different places to be able to assemble it, to transform it, to get it ready for marketing, and then to even figure out how do I generate content? You might have amazing targeting in a hundred different segments, but your marketing team, isn't going to be able to keep up with the production costs of generating a hundred unique pieces of content.
And so we say, let's just generate it for you. We build a technology that can take the data, activate it, and generate that perfect content for every single individual. So that was the hard part that. But that was the problem. Companies really bring us into Saul.
MPD: It's interesting when you're talking about all these siloed data sets that you're aggregating.
I think that I just, my guts telling me, I'm assuming there's some sort of professional services component to this. How much are you guys involved with helping people get organized through your tool in order to allow them to use the tool? Is that a part of the game here or.
Vivek Sharma: It is a switch. It will, especially in the early days, people didn't really know how to think about, it was sometimes we describe, we blink as a Swiss army knife.
Well, if you've got all these tools, what can you do with it? It's hard to even explore the types of ideas. So from day one, we invested in the client services team. We call it the client experience scene. We have a client strategy team as well. Actually someone, we both know Alison Leland, who you introduced me to many years ago, it runs site client strategy team.
She's wonderful and has built an exceptional team and they're industry thought leaders. So there's a retail expert in the whole retail team, a financial services team, a travel and hospitality game on and on. And we help our customers come up with these ideas, know what their strategies are, what kinds of data sets that they have at their disposal.
And how do you turn this into ideas and use cases? That makes a lot of sense and have a high impact. And, there's the technology piece of it. But I feel like a big differentiator for us is our services and strategies that we also bring to our clients that they wouldn't be able to perhaps come up with on their own.
So we're a great sounding board for that and catalysts for coming up with cool
MPD: things that is so important for an enterprise scale business like this. But it's funny when most people set out as entrepreneurs in the tech world to start a company. It's the last thing they're thinking about right there, they're out thinking about how they're going to automate everything a to Z.
They're going to build this, selves as self-serve self-sustaining technology, but a lot of successful companies require this type of division. How do you any tips for folks who are, who are entering a space where they're thinking customer success, or, you're, I like the phrase customer experience folks are going to have to come in and help any tips for how to think about how to set that up or.
Ratios of how many people you need per client. How do you think about modeling out this operation and kind of get into this?
Vivek Sharma: Yeah. And it's fine. Maybe every company doesn't need a client services team. And I think if you're serving small business, it's a little bit more usually what with a small business software.
MailChimp's a pretty good example. Usually the enterprise are the first to adopt something really new it's expensive. It's complex to do. But when there's a well-established set of processes and people know exactly what they're looking to get out of it, then the mid-market market adopts it than small business, and you could have people log in and know what they're trying to accomplish.
So Salesforce did this evil MailChimp did this to, the cheetah mails and the epsilons from way back. However, You have to fit into the mold of how the small business software firm does it enterprises have really disparate data. They've got different workflows, they built layers and layers of things over the years, and they're all a little bit different.
And so if you try to solve everyone's problem and put the solution in the. You've got something that's so convoluted and hard to use, impossible to use. And some enterprise software turns out like that, that he, they just shove everything in there. So I think what we strive for is get 80% of that functionality in there and rely on your, get a good client services team that can do the last 20% or 10%.
And tailor it. And so it's really a platform you have to build with the best practices and make it easy for that last mile to happen. Whether it's no code or writing code whoever you're building for. And you don't a lot of I was an engineer, as an engineer, starting a company you don't want to hire salespeople.
And, or a client services people, and you think everything can happen with code and it's until you've lived in that world and talk to customers. And, I, the benefit of living in the sales world for awhile, you realize what an important part. These people play in salesperson, navigating complex hierarchies within companies and client services.
People being able to come up with a thousand ideas and quickly iterate, right? You talking to your customers. That happens way faster than what you can bake into the product. And you can just cherry pick the most interesting ideas in the patterns that are recurring, put those in your product, but then give the team the freedom to do innovative things that might be a little bit more bespoke.
MPD: thinking about success for the client services side of the world?
Vivek Sharma: Success, meaning how do we know our client services? People are being successful
MPD: yeah. That the operation's working and you're nailing it. How do you think about that? Yeah,
Vivek Sharma: It is really understanding what the metrics our clients are tracking and making sure we're aligned to it. And it isn't. It is an imagination or hallucination that's happening here.
So really establishing what does success look like? And every client could be a little bit different for some people that can be redeeming an offers, a success for e-commerce merchants, selling off their unprofitable, discounting. Some things that they've excess supply for. So we do that in the sales process even, and make sure the client services team really understands that.
And there's a good Baton pass. And measure yourself against it, have regular conversations. What are we trying to achieve? Where are we trying to get to over the course of a year or two? And do we have a game plan that is and measuring ourselves against that? So that is about the client success.
And then internally, of course, it's a SAS company. We look at the gross and net retention metrics. And when are we upselling? And are we getting greater usage of our product? Are people doing more sophisticated or advanced things with our. And th and we look at a ton of data. These are all indicators that we're heading in the right direction.
And, and we have the data to see what the patterns are, what we have to get, what steps we have to get people through in order for them to be successful. And it's not always the thing that just pops into the client's head, the thing that they want. And I think that a little bit of a trust has to be built, to allow a vendor to lead the way and at least share what's worked before with, with kinds of themes of work before.
MPD: And your super power looking at your background. Obviously the engineering roots, but you're you've also got this sales capability and now you've built a large sales force. I assume. How many people on your sales team?
Vivek Sharma: Over a hundred people. Yeah.
MPD: That's a good size organization. What have you figured out? It's enterprise, I'm assuming you guys are doing field sales. What are some of the things you've learned along the way where you're like, okay, This is what everyone needs to know. If they're going to make this work that you didn't know, maybe when you started on this journey.
Vivek Sharma: Yeah. And I would say I'm a generalist and I'm very happy that way more talented salespeople and sales managers and joined the company since then to take it to the next level. But I think the. The good thing to do as a founder is to wear some of these different hats. So you feel the pain you're in those conversations.
And so the early days was me stumbling around with our first rep second rep and doing it in maybe not the best way possible, but learning enough about the kind of person I'm looking for to be able to lead that function. And it is, you from zero to, let's say 1 million, 2 million in ARR, the founder's gotta be pretty close to the sales process and understand what's working because a lot of what your customer is saying is going to make it into your marketing materials, into your sales deck.
So the tight connectedness that I think that's the advantage we have as founders. Because he can't hire anyone. You're doing the pitch deck. You're writing the marketing copy on the website. You are the product manager. Also figuring out what features to build these things feel very tightly, coupled and connected.
But of course you have to start to specialize this stuff. So the next wave, there's a step function. You shift up to the next gear and player coach type of sales leader. Who's out there selling for themselves, but also cultivating a team. And they're creating a little bit more professionalism and standards in the process.
And for us, zero to 20 million in ARR was that point that, that worked pretty well, but suddenly that starts to break down and you've got to step up to the next level, which is a little bit more of a hierarchal sales team. Team selling. It's not just a seller. We have a partner salesperson there's specialization for the BDRs who are generating the leads, there's marketing, product marketing stuff.
They need. There's a. Collateral kill sheets, one pagers references. And so it really takes a team to be able to sell effectively at the highest level. And that machine starts to look pretty different too. And the same person who was successful in the early days, isn't necessarily this, the person who can make it the next level.
It's great. If that happens. But just recognizing that change, that the company is going through a transition. And when I've seen a lot of other SAS companies and these stall points seem to happen, and I know what they're hitting at that point and where they are stalling out. And, we we've learned things the hard way.
I think New York. Was younger in terms of technology companies, you and I are both been here a while. When you can fit everyone into a bar that was in New York tech. And now I don't even know. It's second biggest place where in a VC, in the U S so there's a lot of I think there's a generational shift that's even happened in New York.
And a lot of that knowledge and learnings, that's only good for the ecosystem, right? The next time around people are doing it smarter. Okay.
MPD: So there's these breaking points in companies. We all know those were old process communication styles have to go out the window. You found any rules of thumb for how to identify when systems are going to start breaking any guidance on that?
Vivek Sharma: You can feel it. If you have, if you're measuring things I, I, I wrote in, I wrote an email to my company in the early days. Early days. It's like you're flying a biplane and you can stick your head out the window and kind of know what direction and you're turning that lane left. But at some point you are flying a 7 87.
And you can't rely on that. You have to rely on instrumentation. Otherwise you're going to crash the plane and you have to trust not your senses. You got to trust the instruments. And I would, I would draw analogy. You also have to, in a real company, you also have to get the qualitative kind of dig in deep, but you have to have things well, instrumented, otherwise you can't keep up with all the things that are happening.
So the difference when you're 10 people sitting around a table, everyone knows every single deal. Everyone knows every problem, every objection, it's easy to get everyone on the same page. But as you start to scale, knowledge gets a little bit more siloed and communication. There's just a lot of different nodes to hop.
And so that starts to become more complex. And if you instrument things well, you can start to catch things like something's off in this one area or this new regions, a problem or retention is a problem here. Or we seem to be spending a lot of marketing dollars over here and not getting the results.
That gives you a little bit of an early warning indicator that, Hey, we got to dig in deep. Let's drill down on that. You know, we have a KPI report. I look for the top 10 things that are outperforming and ask, should we triple down on that thing? And the bottom 10%, like what's underperforming. And should we keep doing that?
Or does there something, is there something that has to be urgently fixed in that area? You can't look at everything, but if you have a process the. Things bubble up that are working really well. And the problem points reveal themselves.
MPD: Okay. So larger organization, you've got to move to data and dashboards.
You've got your mid-level management coming in, your experts who are Wizkid's at sales or marketing or this whole stuff. What's the is there a thing that you picked up from your sales leadership that you brought in to level up your organization? Something you learned where you're like, wow. Okay, awesome.
Didn't see that coming. Big insight that came out of watching these pros come in and build that.
Vivek Sharma: Yeah, and I have to give credit, I think in New York we didn't have, Salesforce is not here in New York at that scale. I know they have an office here and everything now, but back then, you didn't have these companies that had reached $500 million in AR or a billion dollars in ARR that you could hire people from, that were leaving.
They could teach you how to do. And as it turned out, the move blank way of doing things a little different, this is not a sale that, Hey, I have an ESP over here. Let's go switch over to a different ESP and you can hire people. Who've been in that industry. You really have to sit down and it's a new type of product, a new way of using it.
And so we needed creative thinkers. So we were successful in promoting from within. So the people who lead our sales organization, our president and chief client officer right now started out as our VP of customer success. About eight years. We made him our CRO and now our chief revenue officer now started out as the first seller doing upsells for the company.
And I gave him a ridiculous target to hit. I think I, I wasn't good at setting targets in the early days, you're picking some numbers out of thin air and people are excited. Amazingly, he exceeded that target would like, seven or eight months in the year. He, I gave him a 2 million target and I think he hit like 2.7 million in that first year.
And I'm not, I'm not saying that's advisable every single time, but you don't know. And, um, he is proven, we throw more opportunity at him, run a small team, killed it, running a small team, go take over all of upsells, killed it there. And now is our chief revenue officer and he has been. I'd say the credit to anyone who's quickly gotten to that next level.
They're learning machines, right? They're just picking up new things. They aren't falling back on a dogma of this is how we did it way back then. And they're constantly revisiting because they perhaps haven't done that before. Same with our VP of north American sales start out. I met his mother at a VCs events, the dinner table and her son wanted to get into startups.
He was a lawyer. He came in as a. Right first on paper, this just didn't make sense. And a later stage company would probably not even clear him past recruiting. That's the great thing about startups, right? You can kind get in there and prove yourself and he killed it has gone through multiple levels.
Now our VP of north American sales came in as a BDR. So there's a lot of stories like that over and over at movable, Inc. And it's keep an eye on talent, keep an eye on people who learn quickly and keep throwing more at them, more responsibility more, uh, more latitude in how they do things, unconventional thinking.
And you might be surprised at the great stuff that. So you asked a question about what did we learn? I think for us bringing partners into the equation 20 years ago, if you're doing enterprise software, enterprise sales, every company was very sharp elbowed. So he buy from Oracle.
They want to sell you everything from Oracle. If you buy from, Adobe, you gotta buy everything from there. And there's no room for partners. And we flipped the model and said, let's embrace every partner. Even once I thought we were competitive in the early days. And we'd find a win-win solution.
The thing that they do is complimentary. They've got a unique data asset and how can we build a unique content experience? And so we've done thousands of integrations. We worked with hundreds of technology companies and probably partner better than any SAS company I've ever seen. And that was an unconventional thing, right?
We didn't we, we learned by someone advocating for it. We had a great partner leader and Adam Stanbleck, our president recognized that was a unique opportunity. Other companies now are kind of borrowing that playbook. And so the idea
MPD: of the partner is you're going to integrate with their technology, maybe package something, and then their existing relationship is now a place where you can sell your product in.
Is that yeah, if you,
Vivek Sharma: Uh, you know, if you want to steal this idea, if you go to exchange dot movable, Inc com. You'll see all these great partner integrations that use case there's videos of what the integration looks like, and it's all productized in the product. So the, that's an example and we have a team that will vet which partnerships make sense.
Our business development team set the rules of engagement, we'll prioritize them. And then we have a partner sales team that goes into execution mode and works with the salespeople on the other. And our own salespeople and pitches these joint solutions because data is the fuel for what makes me like work,
So you're finding data companies more, mostly, and then trying to layer your technology on top and have them help promote it into their ECOS, into their customer.
Vivek Sharma: That's right. So recommendations like rich relevance or Tona loyalty, like crowd twist, loyalty data, like crowd twist Pega for next best action, the brain of your company.
Curalate you social, social data, so on and on, and it can, it ends up being a win-win for each company. That's
MPD: awesome. Great advice. Now you guys have, maybe the internet is wrong and lying and I think it probably is. But Crunchbase says you guys have raised about $40 million.
Vivek Sharma: Yep.
MPD: right. And for the scale of the company, that's not a crazy amount based on your head count. You guys are on LinkedIn. You're clocking over 400 folks now, is
Vivek Sharma: that right? Yeah. We're about 430 people now.
MPD: So did you have a unique view or perspective on. How to capitalize the company, any wisdom for entrepreneurs when not to take money or when, to something
Vivek Sharma: you figured out.
Yeah. And I give credit to all my parents too. I grew up in India, lived there because eight years old and I think a little bit of an ethic of trying to make a dollar stretch. And we came over here with a thousand dollars and a couple of suitcases back in 1988. And, that was sort you know, anything that is waste was just like really, it was just unaccepted.
And I have to give credit to one of our board members, Matt Goren at contour ventures, very similar philosophically. So it wasn't like, Hey, I want to raise a hundred million dollars and throw money into everything. It was always test your way into it. Get enough capital to do what you want to do. It forces, you forces you to have a clear game plan.
Not don't just say I'm going to spend it on marketing. Exactly. What are you going to go spend it on? What do you, how do you test it? That's working effectively. And then how do you scale that investment? And then our CFO, John Herman. So I think the three of us, somehow, a little bit of an alignment on it's.
Okay. Spend more money, but we should be really clear at this point on how what's our return on that investment and knowing where the dollars go and tracking those metrics and making sure we all kind of backslide and just so easy to just shoot money out there and to see it go into nothing and waste it.
And then you're in a tough spot. If you want to raise your next round. So you don't have a private jet. Did you want to send me one? Yeah, I'll do this podcast with you, mark. If you send me
MPD: there we go in the air. We had, uh, Maureen Farrell on who's now at the New York times talking about we work, she wrote a book on that.
Vivek Sharma: And it's a cultural thing, right? Yeah. You have the, we work culture, I, I think we've all read about it and seen it in the news and contrast that with the Amazon culture, that the famous story of. Buying doors and nailing them down and turning them into desks. It sends a message to the employees and it's setting a cultural tone and other people start to embrace it and understand what's important at a company to measure things, to know what matters to track progress.
And it, it creates the right discipline as you get to be a much bigger company and people know how things are.
MPD: Sounds like it's at every layer of the organization. Having a great investor, like Matt Gorin, who's got this perspective as well, reinforcing how you feel about it. That's you kind of baking it in
Vivek Sharma: through and look there, there are moments time early on.
I get it as an entrepreneur. You're like, if someone would just give me that $5 million check, I promise I'll be disciplined. You, it causes some pain, right? There's trade-offs you make early on there's things. Oh, you can only say that in retrospect, I can only say that in retrospect, which is, it was good for us that learning that you couldn't have gotten without really understanding how efficient this thing can be.
What makes it really tick? We wouldn't have gotten it. If we had raised three times as much capital right now you've
MPD: kind built this, the old school way trial by fire, your whole career. You've been earning, working your way through the ranks. Everything's probably been new at some level at every stage of the game.
It's not like you were under you know, someone's wing who had done this many times before otherwise, or had followed a couple of startups through to exit and then done it. What's been the hardest part of the journey for you so far.
Vivek Sharma: I for all the entrepreneurs who are struggling and wondering if the struggle gets better later on, I say the hardest part definitely is getting to product market. There's just so much uncertainty and limited capital whether you have a spouse, husband, wife, whatever, you're just watching your back bank balance deplete.
You're not even sure if you're on the right path. If you're going in the wrong direction should pivot. There's a sunk cost. Like it's just really personally totalling you. You don't know if you're doing the right things or not. And things get better. They're good problems to have after that point. It doesn't mean you won't have other existential threats or new things thrown at you, but it's not that feeling like, wow, this described, this might end up being nothing that you're constantly waking up in the early days.
Like after this week, this might be nothing. We might be dead as a company and your default dead, or you're trying to prove to the world, this company deserves to be alive. And after product markets. You start to feel that a little bit. And although there are challenges and things, and you might have slower growth or something else may happen they're generally all solvable problems.
If you, and you have the breathing room, because you've got some capital in the bank, hopefully to be able to tackle it. So there's early days, I will say later days, the stress can be, you can carry yourself psychologically through something, but you're also. Thinking about how 430 people, or however, if you have to carry everyone else for two, or you have to communicate clearly with some of these challenges are and invite conversation, and it becomes more about not just calling a direction going, but communication just becomes everything as you, uh, get to those later stages.
MPD: So th the journey along the way, are there any anecdotes or stories that you tell at dinner parties? What's. What's the movable ink narrative when you're trying to get a laugh or bring people into the,
Vivek Sharma: Olafur cry. Yeah. So back in 2013, we, we do our email marketing and our stuff, dynamically loads inside emails right after black Friday that year.
And I think this is like one and a half weeks after it, suddenly our content starts started breaking an email and we had no idea why we got like a deliverability consultant and trying to figure out if we're setting things up the wrong way. Then a blog posts arrived on Google's website, maybe another couple of weeks later they had rolled out a fix to start caching content and proxy it.
And literally if there's an image, everyone would see the same version of that image. And so it would break the move blank content. All right. And by this point we were, I don't know, 2013, maybe we were a 70 person company, 80 people, meaningful size and real customers, real revenues and big enterprises.
And. People were really worried. They didn't know what was going on and we're trying to dig into it. And on the one hand you could say Google's only 30% of our opens or something. And it also worked for everyone else. Yeah. That is a big deal. So it was unclear clear. Then we learned Google changed something.
We realized we need to talk to Google. We just have to find a way. So I asked all of our investors, nothing really came of it. No one even knew who was responsible for Gmail on Google and the person we both know Alison woman, somehow in her network. She knows, I think a third of the planet found a path least at least found a.
To the product manager to the product manager for Gmail. And that guy was willing to give us a 20 minute meeting me and Michael. So I've never prepped for a meeting as thoroughly as this one here. And Michael, my co-founder our CTO and I prepped a pitch deck and Google is doing this for good reasons for privacy and security.
And we felt. Provide a fix that would meet Google's needs, but still deliver a better consumer experience where people can see kind of unique content. I call it the ugliest pitch deck you've ever seen because we stripped it down, made it totally ugly. Cause we said, it's going to be circulated with the engineering team and we can't look too salesy on us.
So this has to be something only an engineer could love and not feel they're being assaulted. So we did that. How. Gave him an example of a technical fix past this, no cash header inside the images and override it. And they can still get the IP, IP masking and a master user agent, things like that. And then crickets, nothing happened.
We didn't hear anything a couple more months getting really nervous. And I ended up hearing about this group called MOG MAA WG messaging. Anti-abuse working group that meets in San Francisco so that all the anti-spam people, very techie, very. Inside baseball on email, if be nominated to join the group, I found a way to get nominated pay.
The few thousand dollars told the product manager, Gmail, and Yahoo that I was going to be there for the long meeting you happen to be there when they said yes, why don't we grab a few minutes? I booked a flight and like basically made the whole trip happen simply around that we chatted for 10 minutes.
And the product industry. Yeah the, the, the recommendation you got. That made sense. We're rolling that out if it's not already out, it'll be rolling out in the next week. Yeah, no, it was all like,
MPD: boy, that probably would've been a lot more relaxing if they had said something to you.
Vivek Sharma: It would, yeah, no answers.
I sent a couple of follow-up emails again, like no answers. And so it was just like, get on a plane, show up, get the face time. Never give up and even Google and Yahoo might be willing to change something. If you have a good reason and make a case, what did you take from
MPD: that story?
Vivek Sharma: You don't ever quit?
Don't ever quit. No matter how dark something seems, there's always a path, right? If you can't see it right away kind of triangulate ask different people advice. But if you've got something worth, keeping worth saving,
MPD: Awesome. Now in the marketing tech world, you're in, you're deep into it.
There's probably a bunch of stuff on your roadmap. Are there things that you guys need or want done that other people could go and build, things that you're not giving away roadmap? What should people be doing to help the industry? What is your industry need?
Vivek Sharma: Yeah. There's a lot of MarTech companies building lots of interesting things.
We're building some of them. We have a bunch of partners. There's an ecosystem everything. So we do the content personalization inside of emails. There's companies that use AI to build subject lines there's cross channel deployment platform, serious data management platforms, CDPs, whole acronym soup, all that is.
I am curious about this next wave of companies, web three companies that are using blockchain and it just, when you start to really think about it and go deeper and deeper, these things have the potential to be very disruptive to the old way of doing things. Even snowflake is a company, which is like the most high, highest performing SAS company in history.
If there's an alternate way of thinking about that, about data managers that that could disrupt entire industries. So I think older company, we're not even that old, but we are so deep into executing on things that we're doing. It takes a special team to go deep on the stuff and start thinking about it.
So this is a huge opportunity for entrepreneurs to think about new architectures, new ways of building things. And to think about how does this better the customers experience the customer or the market or whoever you're serving and not just technology for technology sake, but this is enabled new types of things that weren't possible before that are really valuable.
So that is a hugely
MPD: world is interesting. I think for people who haven't heard the phrase yet, web three is probably one of the most incredible ways of rebranding what has been historically blockchain or. And broadening it out beyond currency. And it's the idea of taking ownership, where it's centralized with the company and distributing it out.
So we can have these projects that are owned by a lot. I think it's really open source with the ownership model. What's interesting about it is you know, I think we're seeing this real question of social organization because ownership is rarely around how humans are getting. All right. That's how we, if you're capitalists or socialists, whatever it is, it's around what motivating systems it's not about who gets RegEd.
Everyone dies. Eventually it's longterm, how we are organizing as humans to achieve social goals. So this is a view. Web three actually has a huge social experiment. I think it's going to be fascinating to watch seeing how much we can change the ownership concept of how businesses are done and whether that works.
And there may be places where it works really well. And maybe in movable ink land you need a more traditional corporate structure and leadership team to navigate effectively. Uh, this is, this is an interesting moment. I think, a lot of philosophers for centuries have been talking about, um, different ownership structures on that kind of economic level.
And I think the web is about to force the experiment through web.
Vivek Sharma: Yeah. And there's a lot of different things. It impacts at the same time. You mentioned currencies, but Dow's distributed autonomous organizations. How decisions get made, things like that and forced in code. That's a different thing.
Artificial scarcity and NFTs. Owning your own data. This whole, some of the biggest companies today are about accumulating your data and controlling access to it and creating advertising models that could get blown apart. So rarely does a new thing come out that has such a broad number of applications.
And some of those are good and some of those are gonna fail. Some, some of those people won't jump onto it, but there's so much experimentation that can happen here that. You it's, it's exciting to look at and think about, and I wish I had more free time to go even deeper.
MPD: Yeah. Never a dull moment in the innovation game.
Tell you that every time you think we're at a tail end of some innovation curve changes, the landscape changes. You've been in the New York tech community for a long time. I think we, we met well over a decade ago and it was the predecessor to moveable. And you've been around and we both watched the community change and we're not the old guard.
And I know I, this one on the pod before people have a short memory in the tech community, because the community turns over so quickly, but there are folks in the nineties doing stuff in New York. I don't know if we're third or fourth or fifth generation, but we've been in it for a little bit. Now, one of the interesting trends, I think that I didn't see coming as much.
When I was a younger entrepreneur and VC, but now getting to be the older side of the game is that there are people who want to graduate from the startup community, right? There are people who don't want to be classified as a startup founder anymore. They want to be classified as an executive of a more mature company.
Where are you finding your peer support now? How are you thinking about, yourself as an executor? You're no longer a scrappy startup guy. You have a 400 plus person organization. That's not even small. That's um, how do you think about that psychological shift? Anything to impart on what that transition has been for you?
Vivek Sharma: Yeah, it's not an easy thing. And many CEOs don't make that jump between being the founder of the person, coming up with ideas to establishing systems that help you scale. Creation, founders are usually pretty good at that. And, you've been successful and got to a certain product market fit.
You were probably able to synthesize lots of different things, put them together and come up with an interesting idea. Often you don't find the same set of skills in like scaling something. So you have to realize, look inward and look at what are your strengths? What are your weaknesses? And you know, I looked internally and said, I need to compliment myself with a good team that does this stuff really well.
And so our sales leadership, our customer success, leadership, the finance function, the legal function, and where do I get my energy to? We're, uh, I've told my senior team, really just introspect. What are you really good at? What do you, where do you get your energy and where does the company need you?
And the, and ideally try to find a mix. Sometimes you'll have to do stuff that doesn't give you energy. You have to grind through there's moments like that. But for the longterm to try to put yourself be self-aware because we can compliment you. I I've complimented myself with our leadership team.
The way another executive is really good at certain things, they can find a Lieutenant who does something really well or a peer or, you know, even me as a sounding board. And to just be self-aware and you get to shape your own career, right? There's an opportunity you've earned the right and gotten things to a certain point and you can shape the team the way you that best serves the company, but also serves your energy and what you're good at.
MPD: I love that. Now you moved around a lot as a kid. If I remember I know you, you were, you started off your life. I think when you were eight, when you said, when you moved to the states for.
Vivek Sharma: Yeah. I lived in three different places in India, so my family is south Indian, but I was born in the north and Gentry poor lived in Calcutta for a couple of years.
And I think there was something I think there was a better business opportunity. My parents told me about they moved to sound in the draws, thinking our out of this like tough situation and then a drought hit in the mudras. And when COVID started, I was asking my mother for some advice and I'm like, oh yeah, I remember.
And I'm like, was it a couple of months? She was like, no, it was two years. The drought was two years. So there was water rationing. And she told me stories that we'd get a slot in the morning and you would get a ticket and you'd have to use it in the morning. And three or 4:00 AM get up, stand in line, be on other people, collect all the water that you get for the day for drinking, for cooking, for bathing.
You have to get it. Stressful that window. Yeah. So she was afraid of not waking up on time, so you have to do that. And then she told me this recent, I didn't even know this back then. The mayor of address asked him to put buckets on top of the building to collect rainwater when it rained and if they walked around and if there were buildings that hadn't done, that they would shut off.
So it was a stick. It was not a carrot. It was a stick to say, you do this in order to help us all survive. And those were a good stories and lessons when COVID the pandemic started. And I told him, I shared that story with the company, not even thinking at the start that we were going to last this long.
I thought maybe if you over in a couple of months, but. But bounced around three places came to the U S loaded in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. At the time I was in eighth grade, I'd been to nine different schools. So I think that constant change I hated it as a kid going from one place to the other and then finally settled in high school for four years in college.
So for awhile, I never lived in a place longer than four years and new York's been like a nice place to settle down at the same time. The thing that you didn't love them. I crave adventure. I craved like going, wanting to see new places. And I think it's also made me really adaptable. I'm really comfortable with change and chaos and things changing up around me.
And I have to remind myself that not everyone went through those same experiences, not everyone is comfortable with that level of change. So it's a it's a, it's a weird kind of formative thing as you go through as a kid that makes you who you are. A little bit, it becomes your superpower be if realizing that's not a normal thing and that's not how most people grew up
MPD: and I assume that's helped you in entrepreneurship.
Vivek Sharma: It did. Yeah. I wasn't really afraid of 'em. I was more afraid of not doing something meaningful to me, uh, I had to go create something and. It was my first job after college, I did a couple of internships and college was fun. You get to wax on philosophical ideas and topics. And my first job out of school, I was at Cisco, which was a wonderful guy.
But it was a big company in the late nineties and there was a new campus building popping up every month. And I felt like a drop in a bucket. And within nine months I'm like, I'm miserable. This is not for me. This is what like working is like. And I don't think I, I hadn't been exposed to startups. And the first one I did after that, I quit my job within nine months changed by perception.
And I'm like, there's an energy here. This is what I meant to be doing. And I did that startup for a number of years and I realized I was going to have to go start something myself. It was just too exciting to go figure out. It's like putting the pieces of a puzzle together to go figure it out, to build something that had never existed before.
MPD: And you've pulled it off you know, with all of your success and the journey you've been on. You've been on this for more than a decade. Now what's the most important do you think you've learned as an entrepreneur? What could you leave behind? A
Vivek Sharma: bit of wisdom. Yeah. This, this may not be relatable to a lot of people.
I was I was a geek. I read a lot, we moved around a lot, straight, a student, good at math and science, that kind of stuff. I was not an athlete. I was a strong Indian kid, probably a year younger than the other kids in my grade. And I looked like a 11 year old when some of my classmates looked like 17 or 18 years old.
You know, I couldn't play on an athletic team and be competitive. But somehow I shot up later in like late high school. And then in college I got into martial arts in, in a, in a bigger way. And those was the internship I did in Pratt and Whitney. This is like mid nineties. And wanting to go to the next level and somehow found this school.
And this is when if you're a UFC fan now or a Brazilian jujitsu first started like making it's you know, hoist, Gracie saw that and saw all the things were happening and found a school that would teach top movie tie. Some of the Filipino martial arts. It was a G Kronos school as well as Brazilian jujitsu that teacher had worked with Poisson Horian and the rest of those guys.
So at some point he was like, Hey, would you like to train from. I'm like sure. And got into this thing and we started trading for it. It was not called MMA yet. Didn't have the same rules, but shoot fighting, which is essentially like kick boxing rules plus jujitsu. And you can do a grappling. So four hours a day after my Workday, I'd eat a little bit of dinner, go train, get my butt kicked goes far.
So in my weight and I was like one 60 back then. And then someone, 180, then 202. And you learn a lot, right? It scared me, it scared the crap out of me when I first started doing that. But I think for a kid who is, would, and for a lot of engineers and types of people who think there's always an intellectual answer to something sometimes.
It helped me psychologically toughen up and push through pain, push through difficult moments. And once you've done that, you realize, even if it's been many years, you've done it before you can get back to that place. And uh, yeah, I think doing something that is different, a different type of challenge for you and pushing through is worthwhile.
And the thing that scares you a little bit, because you can draw from that store and know what you're really capable of. And that mentality has gotten us through difficult times. Did you win the fight? The fight got canceled. Unfortunately, there was some sort of a licensing issue. Uh,
Vivek Sharma: like, uh, leading up to it, like you get the nerves and it was scoring stuff, but the and then it took me several a while before I kinda got back in there and then I was older and kinda gotten out of it.
So as a hobbyist and I dropped in and out, but Yeah, it was just a really cool, there's so many things when you're sparring, PV also learn a lot that Mike Tyson quote, everyone has a plan to leave, get punched in the mouth. That that is true of startups. It's also true that you, once you get comfortable, when you start sparring with a new person, you can kind tell it, cause they, they seize up a little bit.
There's heavier breathing their muscle and you get a read on that after you've been doing this for a little while and suddenly that big bodybuilder type of guy, you're like, wait a second here. He's all freaked out and he's tiring out because he's breathing heavy. And and, and you, if you keep calm and kinda move around, you can control the pace of the fight.
And you can see things happening before they do. There's all this like stuff you start to be able to read about fast moving situations and even, the psychology of the person across from you.
MPD: In fact, thank you for being on the show today and sharing a lot of wisdom with us. I'm really.
Vivek Sharma: Great to catch up. Mark.
MPD: Awesome. Having the Vedic on today, I've known him for a long time, but until today, I didn't know he was on his way to being an MMA fighter. At one point, I love seeing him movable and crush it, which they have been for a very long time is where I ask you to help podcast. If you like what you heard. Give us a or a five star review or share with a friend that helps people discover what we're doing here.
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