Interview of Abhishek Ballabh: Co-founder, ExtraaEdge Technology Solutions
He is the Co-founder, ExtraaEdge Technology Solutions – a B2B SaaS company that helps educational institutes to increase, manage & predict their admissions. He has worked with MindTickle Inc ( Series A, B, C ) a fast-growing B2B SaaS startup as an early employee & HSBC GLT in different avatars as a data architect, full-stack programmer, quant & product manager in the past. He is also a Startup Leadership Program ( SLP Fellow ). Innately curious by nature, voracious reader, avid trekker & a work-in-progress blogger.
What inspired you to start this company?
Myself & Sushil shared the core tenets of helping people, keep learning & building technology products. Education marketing is going through a paradigm shift. Education sector spending is growing at 18% CAGR and expected to reach ~ US$ 30 Bn by 2025.
Students need to make judicious choices. Universities and Education Institutes across the globe need to make efficient decisions on acquiring good students. The admission teams need to understand intent & behavioral signals which become the key to a build brand, powerful outreach campaigns & the ultimate admission strategy.
Having worked in the data science & CRM we both founders sensed the need for the education industry to have a SaaS-based CRM model to streamline their admission processes. This need created an idea to build the very first market-first enrollment solution for the education industry.
What are some of the new ideas you would implement in this company?
With a great surge & convergence in Education-focused companies, we wish to build an admission software graph for education marketing teams across the globe. A graph that can learn, grow & build meaningful leading indicators for the future of admissions.
We plan to expand our customer footprint in the International market, strengthen the data science team, and to strengthen the product depth.
What is the problem solved by your startup?
Education as an industry is seeing a massive technology adoption as a result of changes in buying behavior. The GenZ does not follow a herd mentality & explore choices before choosing academic streams, unlike a millennial who had a herd mentality. On the admissions side, we saw this very nature of how any educational institute i.e. University, B-School, Schools, Test-Prep, Vocational, Skill Dev & Employability were moving to brand, digital spent to attract these GenZ & new age students.
This made the complete admission, brand & outreach consultative in nature. The brand needs consistency, clarity of voice, teams who are working across the year on lead gen, nurture campaigns & outreach. Every tech intervention that can happen to sales & marketing was happening in the last few years in the education industry. We are just riding this wave.
It’s possible to build a company like ExtraaEdge today due to these social, economic interactions between the buyer & seller changing for good.
The education industry especially in the Indian market needed to simplify its admission process. The management needs to adapt to changing technological needs and automate the processes. We at ExtraaEdge provide customization CRM solutions specifically for the education industry automating some of the redundant manual tasks.
What obstacles have you faced trying to reach your goals and what steps have you taken to overcome them?
Hiring has been one of the toughest challenges along with maintaining the culture we believe in. All constraints are internal & we believe if we get the people right, they will take care of the product which will take care of our customers & users. We have hired from trusted networks & 1st-degree connections and that has worked out at times well.
Also, in SaaS parlance constantly tweaking your Go-To-Market strategy, pricing & product decisions is in itself a challenge so having a great early core team that has strong beliefs but which are loosely held is supercritical.
What according to you drive sales to a company?
Sales are always driven by understanding problems, articulating it well & solving it with your customers. As it evolves as you sell more & have multiple use-cases.
Think of a doctor, he’s one of the best sales personas. We trust him, he probes and asks detailed questions, takes a deeply consultative approach & suggests remedial products. We never negotiate with a doctor, do we? 🙂
In today’s world customers need not be sold, they are making buying decisions & your marketing should help in facilitating that decision.
Throughout my career I have learned that you can win a sale on a need, you can win a sale on want, but ideal sales situations come from understanding both the need and the wants, because they are often different things, and knowing both can substantially grow a sale. Understanding what motivates your customers, what problems they are solving and what life is like in their shoes is the key to successful sales.
Who do you look to as a role model?
I think my future self is my real role model. I keep on chasing a better future self of mine.
On a pure entrepreneurial front Aaron Levie ( CEO | Box ), Suhail Doshi ( Founder @ MixPanel ) & Hiten Shah ( CrazyEgg, KissMetrics, FYI ) are really whom I admire.
On company building & culture I thoroughly admire Naval Ravikant ( CEO @ Angellist ) & Ben Horowitz ( A16Z )
On the business front, I really admire Bill Gates, Marc Benioff & Jeff Bezos.
On everything else, I go to Paul Graham whenever I am in doubt. He’s the real deal & his essays are the most underrated seminal thoughts of a building company.
Answer in one line :
Share a quote that inspires you the most?
No matter what way you get your #startup advice, in blogs, tweets, snaps or even books, don’t forget the messenger’s context and intention.
What is your life mantra? Share your original quote.
I live my life on these 4 tenets.
Keep Learning | Help Others | Respect Time | Keep Healthy
How to be a leader according to you?
- Watch other leaders in action & be an extremely diligent pupil first.
- Be empathetic
- Read & understand human psychology
- Ask Questions & have courageous conversations
- Listen intently
- Take actions
- Create an environment for leadership development
How do you respond to constructive criticism?
I try to completely shut down my monkey mind, look into the speaker’s eye & be incomplete active listening mode. Super tough but with practice definitely doable.
Any suggestions that you want to give to aspiring startups for raising funds?
Think like an investor, Talk like an economist & Pitch like a gladiator.
Have a very deep understanding of your market & what kind of company you are building.
Have a framework around your Go-to-market strategy & underlying biz model. Only one founder should raise & others should keep focused. Take rejections well, iterate your narrative & get your numbers right.
In words of Nivi from Angellist – Investors don’t invest in businesses. They invest in stories about businesses. So you better tell this right.
What do you think are the most important elements of successful business relationships?
Trust, Performance, Patience & Empathy.
A successful business relationship whether its a Co-Founder, Customers, Partners, Employees should be based on a combination of trust, high performance, patience & empathy.
Always work to build relationships for the long term. All short term tactics in human relationships are bullshit hacks.
Share your experience of fundraising and how difficult was it?
Its exhausting & tests your mental strength to the extremes. So treat it like a process not like a goal. You will hear more No than Yes’s, so act like a student, ask for candid feedback & iterate. Please educate yourself on the term sheet, pitch deck basics & polish your pitch as if your life depends on it. On the table, you should be the guy who knows each & every aspect of a business, term sheets, valuation & business. People invest in people whom they can trust so you better know your shit better than anyone else around.
How would you like to utilize the funds?
Expand the customer footprint at the international markets, strengthen the data science team, and to strengthen the product depth. Moreover, build a great team where we focus on cultural integrity, have funds & keep learning.
Be an ever-evolving student of life & organizational building.
What’s your opinion about StartupLanes?
StartupLanes.com is an online ecosystem for Startups. It is a startup for startups that facilitates learning, growth and, fundraising. It is the only platform for startups that can validate the idea in a scientific manner.