Information Destination Hartford: When did you launch the startup and how did you come up with the idea for it?
ERIC COHEN: I started on this software about three years ago. I came up with the idea out of frustration at work. In every sales position I had it was always the same: I’d walk by my boss’s office and he would always want to know my pipeline and projections. I never knew the details off hand and it made me look foolish. My boss was aggravated that I didn’t know it and I was aggravated that he expected me to know it. It was an ongoing cycle.
The idea really kicked in for me during an internal sales meeting where I listened to my manager talk about how the company was going to shift its strategy and go after new industries. My manager pinpointed some industries, but he had no validation for why he was choosing them, other than the fact that he had read a great article that said those industries were spending a ton of money.
That was kind of the “a-ha” moment for me. I thought: That’s ridiculous. You’ve got to know your industry trend details to make a decision like this. You’re asking a team of sales professionals to completely shift their strategy on a hunch and a news article.
At this point, I had already built a tool for the pipeline and projections for myself. As I went back and looked at the tool I had built, I realized I could actually build off of it and start to figure out how to track and project my personalized industry trends.
IDH: Do you have any background building these types of software tools?
EC: I had never done any of this before. I basically went and taught myself everything in Excel you could possibly think of, all the way until I hit Visual Basics. I forced myself to learn how to write these formulas to build these tools out of necessity. It turned out I was good at it and actually enjoyed it.
IDH: What makes the software unique?
EC: What makes the software very unique, first of all everything is one click at your fingertip. When it comes to running the actual reports, when you open the app it’s a full dashboard of every single detail your manager can possibly think of asking you. It’s a sales and management conversational tool designed to make internal interactions more effective and efficient.
Then a really big differentiator is the trends. No other tool out there tracks and learns personal industry trends for sales reps.
And what I mean by that is, the industries in which they succeed and the industries in which they fail. So if I’m going after the aerospace and healthcare industry, now I’m going to be able to understand that I had 40 meetings in the aerospace industry and I actually only won two of those deals and I had 10 meetings in healthcare and I won seven of them. So even though I only had 10 meetings in healthcare I need to increase my efforts here, and I have to stop going after aerospace because I’m wasting all my time with a low win ratio.
The key to this is that I can do that at my fingertip in real time and resolve the problem of companies only running trend reports once or twice a year. And those trend reports are companywide, not at an individual level.
IDH: Can you explain how the MySalesTrend.com software tool ties in with SocialQualified? What challenges have you faced deciding to launch the tool before the company?
EC: SocialQualified, which is on hold until we get the MySalesTrend.com app done, is a two-sided market place. You need the buyers and you need the sellers. Which do you get first? And how do you attract the other? And nobody wants to come on without the other side of the market.
So that is really the biggest challenge—which is what pushed us in the direction of doing MySalesTrend.com. We thought: What can we do to attract one side of the marketplace that we can then use to attract the other side of the marketplace?
So we built MySalesTrend.com, which is going to be a paid-for solution, but down the road, once we get SocialQualified up and running, we’re going to use the MySalesTrend client base as the seller side of the market and shift people over to the SocialQualified marketplace by offering the MySalesTrend software for free.
MySalesTrend.com has really kind of given us a foothold to bring clients into the SocialQualified platform later on.
IDH: That ties into a question about your startup’s future goals. Where do you see everything going the next few years?
EC: Honestly, the way we look at it, the market for sales tools is very saturated. There are a ton of sales tools out there. While ours is extremely unique, it’s a difficult market to tap into. So, we aren’t looking to take over the world. We’re not looking to be the next Salesforce. It would be a beautiful thing, but I don’t have it in the sightlines right now.
Realistically, we are looking to build a tool that can be acquired from a company like Salesforce or Microsoft Dynamics, or a company of that nature, where they put our tool into their system.
IDH: With regard to the “saturated market,” do you have a lot of competitors?
EC: As far as the individual tool, we do not. In reality, yes, our competitors are contact relationship management (CRM) systems because when we speak to companies and we start to explain our tool, the response is instantly: I already have a CRM.
With all the CRMs in the market everyone equates sales statistics as a CRM. However, MySalesTrend.com is something really unique. It’s a trend management tool and even more importantly a tool to enhance internal interactions between sales and management. Our biggest barrier is making people understand the difference. So, CRMs are a competitor in the sense of how people are viewing the tool, but they are not a direct competitor. We are more complementary to a CRM then a competitor to a CRM.
IDH: Are you involved with any of Connecticut’s startup resources?
I do certainly keep myself involved. I go to a lot of the Startup Grind events, just try to get myself out there and network with as many people as I can. Obviously, I got myself on the Innovation Destination Hartford website.
IDH: Do you find that kind of networking factors into how you’re shaping your startup?
EC: I do. I think the community has been extremely helpful. I’ve connected with mentors through the CTNext program and other entrepreneurs I’ve been meeting. Being able to bounce things back-and-forth makes it much easier to learn from someone else’s experiences than having to always learn from your own. And it’s kind of a shared wealth of information. So it has been immensely helpful.
IDH: That’s great. Any advice for other people launching startups?
EC: Save up a lot of money or keep your day job or work part time because money becomes tight very quickly. You have to be willing to fight for the long haul.
A lot of people enter into entrepreneurship thinking it’s going to be fun and easy. They think: I’m going to build a tool, go out and show it, investors are going to give me a ton of money, and I’m going to run my company. It doesn’t work that way.
IDH: Why is that?
EC: The first problem I ran into was that I didn’t initially have a co-founder when I started. So the first thing investors told me was that I needed a co-founder because they don’t deal with solopreneurs. After that, they told me I needed to build a tool. Except that I was asking for money to build a tool.
IDH: It’s a “chicken-before-the-egg” type of scenario.
EC: Exactly! And then the investors told me I needed traction. And I said to myself: If I had traction, I wouldn’t need investors!
So I took my tool and I used the prototype I had built for myself to recruit a co-founder. I went out and found a high-level technical co-founder, David Addario, who was willing to come on as a partner for equity. So he’s been building everything, no money out of my pocket, which has been a beautiful thing. We’ve been working night and day on it. We average probably 14 to 16 hours a day.
IDH: Hopefully it will pay off.
EC: We hope so! But there are more factors than going in and thinking: I have a great idea.
With regard to advice, I used to get offended by people saying: An idea is worth nothing. But I get it now. If you can’t implement that idea, there is zero value to it.
So I would say my number one recommendation is: Don’t strategize around going after investment dollars. I wasted months and months. Strategize by going after an appropriate co-founder and creating the appropriate relationship. Don’t be greedy. Pair up with a co-founder and get that person on board with you and make sure they are as driven as you are. Bootstrap and build something first.
IDH: How are you marketing?
EC: That’s another huge challenge—marketing and building market awareness. Getting people to know who we are.
I wanted to try something different. People kept saying billboards are bad. But I thought: You know what, you see billboards all the time. They use shock value. What can I use for shock value?
So I created a billboard campaign and a very shocking one at that. I ran the billboard for a month in New Haven and then I switched over to Bridgeport partway through.
IDH: Was it helpful?
EC: I’ll just say: Using a billboard was not the right choice for us. I got zero results from it.
But these are the struggles we’re going to go through. And the point of all of that is not that billboards are bad, the point is you’re going to have major failures and you can’t let the failures deter you. You have to look at that failure and say: What next?
Take the loss, shake it off, don’t think about it, and move forward. I learned a lesson and I can move on.
IDH: And, like you said, you can also share that information with other entrepreneurs.
EC: Right. And in all fairness, billboards may work better for a different industry. But for an app or a solution that will bring you to a website, I don’t think something like that is really going to help.
As I said, it was a lesson learned. But these lessons are critical. Every failure leads to the next success.
To learn more about the MySalesTrend.com tool, visit mysalestrend.com.