Ajay is young, focused and a learner. He along with his team has taken the responsibility of educating and building a function that is currently transforming and it’s just been recognised as a category in G2 – PreSales.
Let us read through his journey of building PreSkale…
YC – Welcome to Yellow Chapter. The objective of this interview is to know “you”. We will start with your childhood memories, professional roadmap and finally your startup. Learnings and suggestions on the way along. So can we please start from the very beginning?
Ajay – I was born in Coimbatore City in Tamil Nadu. The city itself breeds entrepreneurs, it’s called The Southern Manchester of India. The first cotton mill in the southern part of India was established here. I am really close to the city because it understands the entrepreneur mindset and makes sure that they have the right environment. That’s how my history and ancestors also started.
My great grandfather used to sell Clarified Butter (Ghee). My grandfather migrated to Coimbatore to set up a textile business. My father, when he turned 18, took care of the complete business. He was a completely self-driven person. All of my family, my grandmother, grandfather, and my dad did three shifts in the factory.
Back in the 1990s, my father got his first computer. People around him ridiculed saying, hey, you’re just in business and why do you even need a computer? He set up a website back in the 90s. Back in the day, in the US, if someone had to name their child, they needed proof of authenticity, to be named in an Indian name. My dad ran a website with all those names. And whenever someone wanted to name the kids in the US, they usually drop an email, he added it to his website. And that was shown as proof of authenticity.
Unfortunately, he didn’t have the knowledge to sell it back then and had to shut it down. Else it could have been really huge. That’s when Google was also primarily trying to test it out.
He groomed us in a really good way. He talked to us about the values of determination + teamwork + depending on oneself + encouraged us in sports.
My mother is a homemaker. She was the one, making sure all of us were sticking to our schedules. My dad was trying to teach us how we should face the world. My mom taught us how to take care of each other and be a family. My brother (Vijay Jay) and I work together @ PreSkale.
Suggestion – Being a state-level basketball player I would encourage kids to take up sports while growing up. Sports = Building self confidence + discipline + pushing the limits.
YC – How were the four years of B.Tech? What would you suggest to students? How can they make the best of four years of B.Tech?
Ajay – Engineering = Love for Physics
2012 – SSN College of Engineering @ Bachelor’s Degree, Electrical and Electronics Engineering. On the basis of my score + being a state-level player, I was privileged to pick a branch of my choice. Electrical engineering was something that I wanted to do.
For me, B.Tech was the place where I explored myself. By the second year, I had already made up my mind to quit engineering. When I broke this news to my dad he said, “Give me a proper plan on what you will do next. And if that really makes more sense, I wouldn’t be the person stopping you.”
I didn’t have anything in place 😞😞. That’s how I started to venture into what I wanted to do more. I spend more time exploring myself and the domain I would like to work in. This leads me to take part in multiple activities in and outside the college for me to explore myself better.
I did a lot of side hustles during my college:
2015 – AyRaa – I picked up a couple of projects under the brand AyRaa:
– I have always had a liking for design. I started doodling during my school days. I transferred all my doodling skills to digital format. I started picking up freelancing designing work to make some extra money.
– Supplied T-shirts – There were symposiums happening throughout college. For branding T-shirts were required. Me being from Coimbatore, the textile town, I had a friend who had a factory down here. I made a quick connection. Seeing my dad hustle, I knew entrepreneurship is about solving problems.
They needed T-shirts, and I was able to find the best source at the best cost for students. I supplied T-shirts to a lot of universities in Chennai. Apart from supplying T-shirts, I did a lot of other projects with the college around. But realized the business wasn’t scalable.
Learnings from AyRaa:
1. Improved my articulation and communication skills – I ventured out, and explored talking to people. Changed my sales pitch every time I was not able to get an order. Interacting with clients I got to understand better why they gave me a chance, even when they had established founders, and established companies around.
2. Understand the team, give them enough personal space and yet motivate them to do the best for the company.
3. Customer service – The importance and patience to handle customers.
1. At 18 years there’ll be numerous data points + influences that will just confuse. But I would suggest, taking something that you really feel is at least okay, because it can’t be the best at that point in time. Let’s say 10 years down the line would you still be happy with what you did is the first question that I would want everyone to make.
2. Once the decision is made, stick to it. You will eventually finger out the way.
3. Exploration of what else interests you, while you stick to the main course is also very important. For example, if I’m a captain of a ship, I know my destination but it doesn’t mean that the destination has to be reached in the set course itself. Experiments + Exploration should be done.
4. Try and get deep into the domain of your choice. Access your peers + seniors + faculty + online information to make the most of it 🔍🔍.
5. Self-learning beats everything. There are courses, audio lectures, and videos to learn from. Most of the things that I currently do are self-learning, and designing is one of them. I wasn’t a product person, but having a mature conversation with my engineering team is again self-learning.
We are evolving and the discussions we take right now might not be the best ones. But it’s to make mistakes and invest more time in understanding the reason for failure and explore yourself better.
YC – What were the options post-college, family business or job?
Ajay – Family business – Factories were rapidly getting automated and a lot of capital intensive. My dad outsourced most of the work to adapt to the changes but as 21 years old fresh out of college doing a commodity business was not the right choice to be made at that point in time.
Job – There was this 32 hours Startup Challenge @ Entrepreneurship Cell. There were 30 Odd companies signed up just to bring out a prototype in two or three days. Seeing so many students trying to solve a problem using tech, I was super impressed.
I decided to start my career working with a startup. I wanted to be in a place where challenges were thrown to my face and not be a cog in a wheel. Fortunately, my family supported my decision of joining a very early startup, back then. Also, I was relieved that my family was not dependent on me to feed them.
I was selected for L&T interview but chose Freshworks. L&T was a core engineering role. Freelancing work + AyRaa experience = I was super clear I did not want to get into an Engineering role. I wanted to explore and learn about software sales.
2016 – Freshworks – I joined the Presales team, and was moved to the Sales team within a year
Three learnings from Freshworks:
1. Self-learning – No one will teach you. They’ll just ask what has to be done. It’s your responsibility to understand + ask more questions. Your career growth is in your own hands.
2. Customer service – In a sales role, you cannot take feedback personally. Try to understand where the customer is coming from. It’s easier to help customers achieve their goals better when you try to dig deeper and not get bothered at a personal level.
3. Take pride in whatever you’re doing + Seeing the enthusiastic team around I was super motivated to take up more responsibilities.
I was fortunate to be part of the early years of Freshworks. I had access to many teams, and great mentors like (Ajit Soundararajan, a person who had a bird’s eye view and then operated at the grassroots level) + learned new things. But then the company grew bigger and I was expected to do more operations. I knew this was time for me to learn and grow and not stick to the operations-heavy role.
I had two options, I got selected:
At that point in time, I wanted to explore the world and be a global professional and at the same time I wanted to venture into a completely new role. I was also involved in RFP documents at Freshworks and when I found that RFPIO was a global SaaS startup built from Coimbatore, I could not resist the temptation. So I joined them in 2019 in a Sales hybrid role.
I was the first person to be hired for the EU & Latin markets. I was keen on learning how to build and service a global product right out of Coimbatore.
1. How to build a team out of Coimbatore. Scout the right talent.
2. How to ensure the operational efficiency is optimized with a lean team.
3. Manage team.
YC – What were the options that you were evaluating before starting PreSkale?
Ajay – I had a ton of ideas, a few of them being:
1. Image Annotation – Prashanth (my current co-founder) and ex. an employee at RFPIO we did our research and wanted to start a Data labelling business from Coimbatore. We didn’t want to get into services and realized this is an ops-heavy idea.
2. Bring back customers to restaurants and not use Swiggy. We thought that if we were able to understand the demographic of customers walking into the restaurant, we could leverage Instagram, and then start posting offers and combos directly from the restaurant’s Instagram page. Customers can directly get more offers. Retention of customers will be more for restaurants rather than Swiggy. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out + operational difficulty.
3. In 2018, Prashanth and I set up a B2B business selling glass crockery to restaurants. We wanted to do something for the environment. Very fortunately, in 2019 Tamil Nadu government announced a statewide ban on plastics. But we realized we loved tech.
4. During my tenure at Freshworks and RFPIO, I knew that PreSales was often overlooked but every function understood the importance of the role as they were the centre of influence in any sales opportunity. So Prashanth and I ventured out to build PreSkale and put PreSales in the spotlight.
PreSkale – A platform for technical sales teams. It integrates with the Sales tool + Product tool + CRM tool. Centralizes all of this data for technical sales consultants in one place. The technical sales consultant can manage, schedule demos, and build a personalized evaluation plan all in one place. Technical salespeople can take care of the technical sales cycle, whereas the salesperson can focus on the business sales cycle.
YC – Can we talk about some numbers?
Ajay – TAM right now $15 billion. For five salespeople out there in the software ecosystem, there is one pre- sales person supporting them.
The sales ecosystem, which includes CRM tools, sales enablement tools and business intelligence tools is at $75 billion. And it’s growing even faster because the teams are getting more remote. Due to remote working the sales folks and the pre-sales folks will not be in the same office at any point in time. Collaborative tools are the need of the hour.
Sales 1.0 was – People walking into offices and selling software.
Sales 2.0 was – People selling software socially.
Sales. 3.0 is – The users directly have access to the product themselves – Product Led Growth.
Ideal Customer – Our ICP (ideal customer profile) is Series A or Series B companies with around 200 employees. Companies clocking in $15 to $20 million in revenue. These companies have a well-defined sales process, they will have a pre-sales team in place to manage all the technical operations. And these teams need a platform where they align the whole organization and sales function to the revenue goals.
In early 2022 we had the MVP. In the 2nd Quarter of 2022 – we closed all of our pilot customers. We have launched and worked with a lot of Series B and C companies.
Funding – We raised our pre-seed funding from BoldCap | B2B Global SaaS Fund and PointOne Fund – Investing into pre-seed and seed stage tech startups + A lot of angels primarily from pre-sales and operational function, who were able to connect with the problem statement.
Competition – Pre-sales is a function that is currently transforming and it’s just been recognised as a category in G2. It limited players at this point in time. There is one pioneer Vivun – Powers incredible buyer experiences with PreSales at the centre of influence.
@ Team PreSkale
YC – A SaaS founder has three problems – PMF, Marketing and Sales. How was your experience with each of them?
Ajay – PMF – I was building for my own use case, I exactly knew what was needed. To back my validation, I did close to 200 to 250 user interviews before even we started building. There is this community called PreSales Collective, I went on multiple calls with the community members trying to understand different use cases. With all these data points + my pre-sales experience, we started building the solution.
Marketing and Sales – There is no universal approach to marketing and sales. We are building for the function that is just getting defined. Our approach right now is to build more content to educate the market.
Right now we run a newsletter. The plan going forward is we will eventually share our learnings of building PreSkale with the community. And take a more proactive approach in shaping the pre-sales as an important business function.
YC – Suggestions you would like to give to fellow founders?
1. Before you start building, gather enough data points, and talk to people from the industry, and potential clients. Identifying patterns. Next, define a problem statement. Then go ahead and start building.
2. SaaS startups are a slow journey, unlike others. The founder needs to manage his expectations and the team’s expectations accordingly. Building a product – designing the architecture, finding solutions, and iterating it a couple of times takes a lot of mental bandwidth.
3. Sales – It should be founder driven.
YC – What keeps Ajay going?
Ajay – I have taken the opportunity to lead a team, to solve a problem for a community that is looking out for answers. This responsibility keeps me going.
The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz – It is a really insightful book that will not throw inspiration, but it will give better clarity in terms of what an entrepreneur goes through, what decisions they had to take in order for them to be more responsible and get things done for everyone involved.
Pavilion – It is a private membership for high-growth professionals, providing the support you need to get you where you want to goon is a private membership for high-growth professionals, providing the support you need to get you where you want to go.
SaaSBoomi – Asia’s largest community of founders and product builders shaping the SaaS ecosystem with a pay-it-forward philosophy at heart.
Outside of communities, I talk to a lot of founders as well..
YC – Ajay, I genuinely believe many people contribute to where we are in life. They are our family, friends, teachers, mentors etc. People you would like to thank in your journey so far?
Ajay – I’d like to thank my parents, Lakshana (my wife), Vijay (my brother), and all my friends and the team of PreSkale. Being an entrepreneur is a very lonely journey and every step makes sure that we feel it. With them around, I’ve learnt to stay humble and be grounded to experience the journey and not worry about the destination.
Ajay, it was a great conversation. Thank you for your time. Yellow Chapter wishes you all the very best in your future journey.