Bootstrapping a tech startup with a non-tech founder with Rajiv Lamba (SurveySensum & NeuroSensum)

In this episode, Rajiv Lamba (SurveySensum & Neurosensum) talks about:

  • How he built a tech company as a non-tech founder
  • The importance of having a scalable core product
  • Why he chooses to focus on sustainable rather than aggressive growth
  • How he makes the most of the synergies between his two brands to maximise sales
  • The importance of lifelong learning in setting the direction for your business’s growth

Podcast information:

About the guest

A seasoned MarketResearch expert, Rajiv Lamba is the Founder and CEO of NeuroSensum and SurveySensum. NeuroSensum was launched in 2018, and was amongst the very few to introduce the concept of data visualisation and neuroscience in the Indonesian market. 

Rajiv is also the winner of “30 Entrepreneurs of the Year 2019” by The Silicon Review, and was nominated for A-List: Forbes Indonesia’s Most Promising Growth-Stage Startup 2019. Feel free to drop him an email at 

Find him here:


Books, tools, people, frameworks mentioned in this episode:

Rajiv Lamba  0:00  

Because customers in US might be very, very different to customers in Indonesia or Malaysia or Thailand or Singapore, so then listening to a customer in the local market becomes far more important. And then adding the features that those customers want becomes a big priority. So looking at competition is important. But copying competition is not important right? Going back to the customers say What do you want, then I’ll add those features slowly over time and make a product that is desirable for the local market is far more beneficial.

Ricky Willianto  0:26  

While building Surveysensum, Rajiv struggle with the diverse needs of clients in Southeast Asia, a customer in Singapore has very different needs to the ones in Malaysia, even though they’re in the same industry and are in neighbouring countries. While his goal was to build a product that is ubiquitous in the research space, he realised that he needs to localise his product to win over his early customers, as he listens and focuses more on the local customers, surveys and some manage to grow rapidly, allowing Regis to incorporate more and more features that address issues of a broader group of customers. To need to hear more about Regis experience building a tech product as a non tech founder, and how he bootstrap service and some by studying with a consulting business first. My name is Ricky Willianto, co founder of Ravenry, and the host of this growth multiplier podcast. Through this podcast, I hope to uncover the pathways, startups and companies have taken in their journey of growth, share some stories from the trenches, and hopefully identify patterns and hacks that can be replicated by businesses in Asia and the rest of the world. I hope you enjoyed the show. 

Hey Rajiv thanks so much for joining me today. Really excited to have you. So before we begin, can I get you to maybe share a little bit about yourself and also about the two companies that you’re currently running?

Rajiv Lamba  1:42  

Yep. Thanks, Ricky for having me. On your podcast, there’s a brief about myself, I came to Jakarta in 2004. So I’ve been in the region for around 17 years. Currently, I’m based in Singapore. And I’ve been in the field of consumer research all my life. So I’ve worked in some big enterprises before the likes of Nielsen, for example, 2011, I joined a startup, which was again, the fruit of market research. I exited that business in 2017. And I cashed out so that was my first journey of exiting a business or being in a startup. I was one of the shareholder 2018 I started a company called NeuroSensum, I’ve got two brands, but the parent company is called NeuroSensum, which is a neuroscience based consulting, again, in the field of consumer research, that is something that we started in 2018. And 2019, we added one more brand into our portfolio is called SurveySensum, which is a customer experience survey platform. There are people who can’t afford consulting services, they normally take survey platform to get the consumer feedback.

Ricky Willianto  2:37  

So both you and I, we came from research background, so we know very clearly what this business is about. But for those whose maybe not as familiar with the research industry, do you care to elaborate a little bit more about these two brands? And what specifically are the services and the products that you offer? And what kind of clients that you have right now,

Rajiv Lamba  2:54  

right? Through the neuroscience, as I mentioned, it’s a neuro based consulting. So what I mean by that, you know, normally traditional way of doing consumer research, when you launch a new ad, or a new bag, new concept, new positioning, you normally ask people, do you like it? What do you think about it? It’s very much a claim data, you ask people and people tell you now the situation in Southeast Asia particularly or around a park, that consumers tend to give you a very nice and polite answers, they will never tell you on the face that your product sucks. So the idea is, you know how we can go beyond what consumers are claiming. That’s what the neuro part comes in? Can we read the subconscious? Because that’s where the decision making happens. So how do we do that we invite consumers to our lab, or we can also do it online by reading the brain signals, facial expressions, eye tracking, but they’re different neuro tools that are used for different use cases. But the idea is to get our subconscious understanding. So when a consumer look at an ad, how the brain is responding, what signals getting emitted, their facial expressions, their eye tracking data, where are they looking at. So that gives us much more their subconscious appeal towards a marketing element or be packaging beat advertising, beat planner gramming. So that goes beyond what traditionally people were doing. So that adds a layer on top of the claim data, which is a subconscious. And of course, everybody needs to research right, who doesn’t mean but we normally go to the larger enterprises because they have bigger budget to pay for this kind of research. Typical clients are consumer good companies, the likes of denotation fly, which is Dutch lady banks, telco companies, for example. smartfren from Indonesia, big banks, like btpn VMI ecommerce companies like tokopedia, for example, our clients are normally the larger enterprises will use us for their advertising testing, or positioning testing or packaging testing that goes to the neuroscience based consulting element.

Ricky Willianto  4:31  

And how about SurveySensum, which is your second brand?

Rajiv Lamba  4:34  

Yeah, it’s a very interesting journey. You know, in 2018, I never thought we were going to launch service and some so we launched this consulting division, but when we were going to clients, they were very, very happy with our neuro products. But they kept on asking us this question that you know, guys consulting is expensive right? Now, as a competition is emerging in the market. Any brand has 1000 issues to answer for but for these 1000 issues, they don’t have budgets to go to consulting companies every time so they were asking us guys, you know, can you give us a small So called AR enable platform so that I can just subscribe to a platform, which should be much advanced, it should not be the licence, some of the other small brands that you are aware of, of course, everybody knows the leader in this domain, also a platform. But those platforms are not AI enabled. So the client was asking us that, can you make an AI enabled platform that I can do myself, I can make surveys, I can send surveys to the consumers, I can get the response real time because consulting is time consuming, is expensive, and it is time consuming. So that’s how the entire concept originated in 2018,

Ricky Willianto  5:30  

the AI element comes into play that differentiates you from your competitor, I’m very curious

Rajiv Lamba  5:35  

to the AI element here is what we call the NLP understanding the local language to put it in very simple terms, not to use a jargons, which is when you’re asking consumers, why you like something, why you don’t like something the survey happens in the local languages or in English. But this NLP engine, what it does, It summarises that entire textual data into real time topics and sentiments. Okay, traditionally, in consumer research, we were doing it manually, we were looking at it, we were tagging it, manually

Ricky Willianto  6:02  

transcribing it, and then you label it as well.

Rajiv Lamba  6:05  

Right. So that was the model of doing it. Now, the idea is that the moment consumers tell you why they’re happy, why they’re not happy, you don’t have to do that manual tagging anymore. The data lies goes into the algorithm at the backend it lives gives you a summary of what people are talking about, and their sentiment. So that’s the origin of service, we got these records from client, we said, you know, it looks like a very interesting need, which is to understand the local languages plus have a local player who has offices in Southeast Asia to not somebody serving from US markets. And that’s what service and some God originated, which is more like customer feedback platform, but which can read the local dialects and can read the local languages. And interesting you know, what happened as you go to the market, you explore so many things, right? So we went to clients with this customer experience survey platform, I love this survey platform. But sometimes I don’t need the survey, always. Sometimes I have a lot of social media data. I have chatbot data, I have customer complaints. So this is cortex and sentiment analysis. Can I just buy your NLP engine to do a chatbot analytics, customer complaints analytics, my app reviews analytic, because everybody’s on websites, or social media using some kind of app. And that’s where we started monetizing one more product within service and some call text and sentiment analysis. Somebody can take a survey platform as a DIY or somebody can take this text and sentiment analysis and take our API’s and plug that into omni channel.

Ricky Willianto  7:19  

So just to summarise, you started as a consulting business with neurosensory, you found out that the customers want something that they can use by himself, right reaching out to their own customers to do some sort of a survey and customer understanding exercise. You’ve got a tool for that, right. And now you’re not only selling these tool on a project basis, but they’re actually using it as a recurring tool as part of the analytics. Is that right? That’s correct. Absolutely.

Rajiv Lamba  7:45  

Yeah, so that’s what’s called a SaaS so that you can service and some as a software as a service. And again, it’s the only channel right I’m in the world of omni channel has become very popular in the last two years. So people are plugging into their website, they’re plugging into their app, plug into their CRM system. So anybody comes to the chat bot, a survey goes, or anybody comes to the website, a survey goes to me, you can print a QR code and put on your retail shop or branches. So the idea is, wherever your consumers are touching you or talking to you, how can you get the feedback on a real time man or omni channel? Yeah.

Ricky Willianto  8:14  

So I want to dive a little bit deeper into your prior entrepreneurship experience, because you said that a company called cadence Right, yeah. And now you’ve jumped into another company called neuro sensor when you started neuro sensor, were you aware of like thinking about building a tech product as part of that enterprise? From the beginning,

Rajiv Lamba  8:31  

it was it was always the back of the mind. I think we all know where the world is moving towards it, the writing was very much on the wall, even in 2013 14, attend a lot of conferences online as well as offline. And it was very clear what’s going to come in the future. So when I exhibited cadence, I always had a thought in the mind that, you know, we have to bring technology into consumer research. Because things were happening the same way in the last 30 years to tell you honestly, many, many companies are still existing with traditional way of doing things. And it’s not going to die down soon. But we knew that tech is going to play a very major role in consumerism, as in also other categories. Yeah, but that thought was somewhere in the back of the mind, and I was lucky that we got well funded, I was lucky that we got the right people with the right domain knowledge who helped us building the company.

Ricky Willianto  9:16  

So I really love this story. Because I think oftentimes, when we talk to founders, when they come up with a particular solution, especially if it’s a tech solution, oftentimes they come up immediately with the tech solution. Whereas for you, you’ve gone down a slightly different route, right? You’ve kind of decided to build a consulting business first. And as you you know, build that business, you start to find ways to get into the tech side or expand into the tech capabilities for your business. So I guess I’m curious to understand how you’ve been able to design the right consulting company, to help you get to the tech side of things, because I’m sure you’ve thought about it. I’m sure when you started NeuroSensum, you’re like, Okay, this is meant to be the foundations like, you know, this other business that we’re planning to build to be scalable, right. So what was the thinking? around how you design NeuroSensum to be that baseline that fundamental that foundation that helps you build SurveySensum eventually.

Rajiv Lamba  10:07  

Yeah, very interesting question, Ricky. So, you know, when I started NeuroSensum consulting, it was easy for me to start consulting because I’ve been a consultant whole my life. But at that time, this concept of service and some was there in my mind, because I was following some of the big players around the world. But because I’m not a techie, for me, it was very easy to start a consulting company. But it took me three to four months to figure out how SATs are developed, what kind of skill sets are required, so starting neurosensory was very easy in 2018, scaling up was relatively easier because you’ve been there multiple times. But we service and so it took me some time to understand what kind of people I need a CTO, I need data scientists, we need programmers engineers for that art to kind of spend six months away from my family. So I started the office in Singapore in Indonesia, and I hired a managing director to run eurosense. I’m in new consulting, then I went to India for five, six months to build our backend office, you won’t believe just to learn the SAS business in 2018, I would have interviewed more than 2000 people and a span of one month. Wow. Right. So right from data scientists to engineers understanding the competition.

Ricky Willianto  11:11  

That is that is a feat in itself. And we probably can have one entire podcast talking about how you’ve done that.

Rajiv Lamba  11:18  

Because I was not a tech guy, right? I’ve not been a CTO, I didn’t know much about SaaS.

Ricky Willianto  11:24  

What made you feel that you needed to interview 2000 people,

Rajiv Lamba  11:27  

multiple domains Because in my view of selling in the past was all born selling? Yeah, so you have sales people reaching out knocking the doors, very inefficient way of doing things at times. I didn’t know digital marketing. I didn’t know there’s something called SEO. I didn’t know there’s something called sem. I did not do any of those terminologies to tell you honestly, I didn’t know there’s something called the marketing funnel, mq l SQL marketing, qualified lead sales qualified lead how you build a SaaS business, I was not aware of what a data scientist does. I just heard the terminology data scientists in 2018, what exactly to do or didn’t have the clue? What does a software engineer does? What is UI? What are the UX people to do? I didn’t have any of those.

Ricky Willianto  12:04  

You had a really steep learning curve.

Rajiv Lamba  12:07  

So in 2018, I had to interview people, and also wanted to understand what our competition is doing. Where are they lacking? Where are the gaps in Southeast Asia, what gaps they can’t fulfil, try to interview multiple people. Plus, understand the competition landscape was to understand the domain knowledge that I didn’t possess so that I can hire the right people. While these interviews were going on, I was learning parallely. And then my learning curve became better and better, which helped me to hire better people over time to hire this senior management and hired a CTO marketing head data science head UI UX. So that doesn’t our hiring happened in those six months in 2018.

Ricky Willianto  12:43  

And that was specifically for surveys and some right there was for the second brand.

Rajiv Lamba  12:46  

Yeah, that’s it. For Newton’s which was relatively easy. We hired a neuroscientist who could develop that was the only tricky part but getting consultant because I came from a consulting background, I knew who all I can interview of all i can hire, that was relatively easy for me hiring a neuroscientist took a bit of time developing this algorithm took a bit of time refining took a bit of time, but service and some is very hard to learn, right from zero by so that took a lot of time and for product to shape up took some time because I had to learn a lot. And as a founder when you learn by doing you know, when you roll up the sleeves and nothing like that, you learn by doing it took some time to get service and some to the market. I mean, though, I had the concept in April 2018 when we learn years and some but service and some started commercialising in August 2019. So yeah, it took time to get the right people build the right product that we can go to the market.

Ricky Willianto  13:35  

So the market research, and specifically the survey type tool business in the research industry is quite competitive faced, right, there’s actually quite a lot of players, and most of them have been around for a long, long time. And they have huge network of like what they call panellists and like survey respondents, you know, and the tools are, you know, like, basically set the standard in the industry, right? How do you stand out? And how do you create a product that really has like a different value proposition that, you know, is superior to the incumbents?

Rajiv Lamba  14:06  

You know, when we look at this incumbent, the big incumbents, right? A lot of them are operating from US market, or they’re operating from Singapore market. So a lot of these incumbents what they were doing, they were just giving marketing, and anybody picks up the tool online finds upon and starts using it. The problem with that is they were not educating these customers that you can take the API and integrate it into multiple assets. So what people were doing, they were taking this platform, uploading the databases and sending the surveys, but you can plug the API on website, you can plug in on chat board, you can plug in on app, you don’t have to because email servers have very low response rate at service have very high response rate. Also, we were the first company in the region to launch WhatsApp surveys. And suddenly it became very popular because people reply on WhatsApp, so we started WhatsApp service. We started SMS service and traditionally these incumbents large companies were only email service and they were not even. They had all of API’s. Right. But they were never teaching customers or offering talks. He was not focused for these incumbents. They were not teaching that you can plug in, they will not working with a technology to have the client side. And suddenly this omni channel thing became so big, while what clients were doing, they were just using their own databases and putting uploading and sending surveys to these incumbent they were not utilising omni channel integration, they didn’t have the presence on the ground in the local market. They were not offering WhatsApp and SMS service. And for the open ended question, which we call as why, you know, the textual data, they didn’t have the local NLP. So they didn’t have these advantages that we built up. Because we also had the local team, which could talk to the clients were attempting to talk to the tech team, those are called implementation services. So you can only take text only, or you can also take tech with implementation services that started we offering locally and suddenly, we became very, very popular, these guys can do so much stuff. And we started kicking out some of these incumbents out of Indonesian market.

Ricky Willianto  15:49  

I’ve always really curious to get into the founders thinking about this particular dynamic in building like a SaaS product, right? So I think if you look at the western model, a lot of the times the best practices is to build a SaaS product that is scalable at a global level, right? You want to build something that everyone can use, because that’s where you can really help make your money, right. You’ll notice that in Southeast Asia or in Asia, like particularly, there is some nuances of localization that is playing a really big part in helping some business companies get started in the region, and really can like make them stand out compared to the more global player that is, I guess, generic, right? Because they’re not overly localised? Right. And there is some advantages to that localization. My question for founder is how do you like, you know, make that trade off? Because it is very enticing to call it the available a tool that everyone can use, right? But the same time you how do you balance that with, like, you know, being able to lead in one market first and build something that is specialised in one market first, like tools or NLP doesn’t get built overnight, right, you know, you have to take it takes time to train it, it takes time to collect the data. So yeah, I just want to kind of get your strategy around, you know, global versus local.

Rajiv Lamba  16:56  

You also see, you know, if creating a product which is in English, you can just create one more product and you can scale up using digital marketing. I think that the question is very relevant that how you localise your problem, and we have not created the product in Bahasa Indonesia. The product still is in English. But the NLP was God designed in the local languages where we had to design dictionaries by categories. So that’s where initial customization and effort was required. But we are not customising product from client to client B. But having said that, when you go to these larger enterprises, everybody wants new features. So you go with the basic product and people they keep on asking you new features. But that doesn’t mean that we provide features straightaway, we still work with with a very SAS mindset that we will keep on adding features. If more customers ask for the same feature, then we’ll add that first. But having said that, when you go to the large enterprises, the likes of smartrend, you know, a lot of fmcg companies are going by, if they really want something custom, we do built it, but then we charge very high amount of money for that customization, but that customization only belongs to them. But if you see a lot of those customizations happening, then we add that as a part of the product feature. So this is a basic product of SAS, which is sold to everybody. The only differentiation is NLP, which is in the local language. But a customization is done. Sometimes if somebody is paying you hundreds of $1,000 for customization, your only your cost is not much on that customization, you still might take it. But then when you figure out that that we go to four or four or five more banks, everybody wants the same customization then that becomes a part of the product feature. That’s how the product gets built over a period of time. We might think that we are localising it, we are customising it. But believe me, after some time that customization becomes a part of the feature. That becomes this differentiation,

Ricky Willianto  18:34  

you really start from the customers and listening to what the people want. And slowly seeing how prevailing that particular request is, you are going to integrate it back into the core offering.

Rajiv Lamba  18:45  

There’s no point of making a big product on solid body, you start with MVP, you go slow, but you go with MVP with differentiation. And then you keep on adding features as you make more money, you reduce your burn you add features that customers want, because customers in US might be very, very different to customers in Indonesia, or Malaysia or Thailand or Singapore

Ricky Willianto  19:02  

know for sure. Yeah. extremely different. Right? If I have to say,

Rajiv Lamba  19:06  

yeah, so then listening to a customer in the local market becomes far more important. And then adding the features that those customers want becomes a big priority. So looking at competition is important. But copying competition is not important, right? Going back to the customers say What do you want, then I’ll add those features slowly over time, and make a product that is desirable for the local market is far more beneficial.

Ricky Willianto  19:28  

Yeah. I’m very intrigued when you talk about how you’ve been able to build like a core base product essentially, right, that can become again, the foundation that allows you to customise different things and just judging on like how you’ve built the visit, I trust that every single customization that you’ve done for your clients are profitable projects, you know, whereas oftentimes, a lot of the SaaS companies that we look at, like there’s much bigger they struggle with that because it’s much harder for them to build a custom project or custom product that is profitable because their model is very different, right? So, like what I’m trying to understand is what is Your strategy of you know, leveraging customization as a way to build a profitable business, right? I mean, to a certain degree, it can still be perceived as a consulting business, right? Like, instead of research consulting business, you’re now a research tech consulting business right here essentially, like someone who integrates things for, like the customers. So that requires you to toe the line very carefully, because you can very easily turn into a full blown agency business, right? Yeah. How do you carefully manage that balance in an organisation, especially in a tech organisation where the expectation of the employees are they want to build product, they want to build one big product that serves a lot of people, they want to build different projects for different people, right? So right, how do you balance that?

Rajiv Lamba  20:39  

Absolutely brilliant question. And right from the beginning, you don’t want to create custom products for each client differently. So we created one base product, how did we create was learning from what others are doing around us. So that’s what the MVP got created. So what we do as a company, we always have six months of roadmap, it’s very important to have a product roadmap, what is the next six months vision for the product, what features you want to have, and some of that comes from your hunch. And as you keep on getting more customers, then you that roadmap becomes better and sharper. Now, if any customization fits into that roadmap, we take that customization. For example, when we started as a platform, we didn’t have the dashboard capabilities, right? We started the survey platform, and you can share, you can get the result. But we didn’t have the dry dashboard capabilities. And we didn’t want to use Tableau and some other platform because they came very expensive for our markets. So though initially, when we started in 2019, we were building dashboards for clients customization, though, dashboard was not a part of our initial roadmap, initial roadmap was that you can create surveys in multiple languages, you can share the surveys, you can see the report. But dashboard capabilities were not part of the roadmap, once it created five or six dashboard we saw it is dashboards are really, really important for consumers. Yeah. And that became a part of the roadmap. So not everything that we do is custom do it mighty profitable, we don’t have every customer which is profitable, it has to ultimately follow a part of your roadmap that is going to your product direction to the product, you have to have a vision of the next two years, what are I want for us being able to build survey share survey dashboard capabilities, cross tagging capabilities, closing the loop calculator, which is the detector, if somebody is not happy with you, suddenly alert goes to the customer support team and give a bad feedback. So this was only a part of our roadmap for two years. And we saw some of the custom work we learned from that customer work, because it also told us what features are required in dashboard so that we don’t just look at the competition, we look at what clients want, and how we can design dashboards a bit more differently, uniquely, with a better UI. Look at our platform is extremely easy to use, but does all what customers help us to do, or there’s not always custom. If it’s not a part of the roadmap, we don’t touch that customer.

Ricky Willianto  22:36  

That makes a lot of sense. It’s almost like you’re getting your customers to fund your product development, right? Because you’re essentially charging them for the customization that you’re already planning to do maybe like six to nine months down the road, right? But because they want to accelerate it, then you’re like, Okay, well, if you pay for it, we’ll build it for you now, you know, so that’s a really smart way of doing it. So I want to change tack a little bit, but it neuroscience 2018 right, and you’ve launched surveys and some only a year and a half later, right. So, I’m curious, are you currently funding service answer with neurosensory. So we did fundraise, we had 300 are you subsidising all i bootstrapping it with the consulting business,

Rajiv Lamba  23:18  

three consulting business has helped us to reduce our burn. So that really helps us to reduce our burn, because the nerve centre became profitable within six or eight months. Now what neuroception has done, it has reduced our overall burn, our burn rate was around $25,000 per month, which is extremely low for us as a company our size, because the profit that it got or burn went down. My dilution, as a CEO went down or owner went down, I didn’t dilute too much because I had one cash cow, which was constantly generating money. But you know what I also realised in Southeast Asia, if you only go with tech only, not every time people will pick if they have low budget, they will only take tech, but they have a high budget, they will say okay, I love your tech, I want to do it. But can you also please help me to analyse that data? So that’s where again, euro cents I’m help us because if we didn’t have the consulting division would have lost that money, or would have had to also the consultant to somebody else. So somebody wants to only take only as India, why they’re happy to take it, but somebody wants tech, right? They want you to analyse the data. That’s where the neuroscience and consulting arm comes in. It helps us to make more money in a way, right? Because,

Ricky Willianto  24:17  

yeah, there is a really funny thing to say, because when Microsoft, I think SAS was started by Microsoft, while they were one of the, you know, companies that started it. And when they started it, they offered it as software plus service eventually became Software as a Service, because the service element just gets reduced, because they want to scale right. But now in Asia, you’re saying that software plus service is probably a better way to go for tech companies, because the clients do want to get that additional help and do want to get that additional service and are willing to pay for it. Is that what you say?

Rajiv Lamba  24:47  

Yeah, if you go to the larger enterprises, you know, the big corporate they’re willing to pay. So there are two options. Either you collaborate with somebody else, which are consulting companies, and say, I’m only going to provide your tech but if you need consulting on this tech data that you can Selecting a partner to work with. So that’s one option. But of course, that partner will charge money, your margins can go down Second, you know, you go as one stop shop that I’ll give you both tech plus, I’ll give you a consulting support and your margins improve. Of course, there’s also consulting element attached to it. But to me, when you go to the larger enterprises, they like to do both. And again, Ricky depends on who you’re talking to. Of course, if you talk to the marketing team, they will like to do both, because they’re far bigger budgets. But if you go to an HR team, they possibly might only take 10, because the budgets that they have been assigned is far lower on research. But if you go to customer experience team, somebody might take both somebody might take 10, but if you go to marketing team, they’ll say, you know, give me both a lot of money to spend, you’re cheaper because you’ve got a tech element attached to it. You’re far cheaper, you’re far more tech based, you can give me real time data other consulting is giving me after one month, so they can take both customer experience might take only one or sometimes two, HR will only take one which is on tech only.

Ricky Willianto  25:51  

So since you started this company, how has it grown so far, both of these brands, if you

Rajiv Lamba  25:56  

look at this, from a CAGR perspective would have been around 90% in the last four years.

Ricky Willianto  26:01  

Wow. For both brands combined.

Rajiv Lamba  26:03  

For both brands combined. Yeah, I think even during COVID time, right, like 2020, we grew 80% 2021, the first semester is done, we have grown 100% our because now we have got two portfolios within our companies. So if something goes down, other picks up, that goes on something else picks up. Yeah, so that has helped us to grow Overall, we have consistently grown to 30 to 90%, as a company on a top line. So it’s a good growth. I’m not talking about giving it free and burning money. We have not gone to that level. So anything that we do we look at profitability. I’m not an intrapreneur. We’ll just love burning, burning, burning and grow five eggs, and there’s no profitability in the side. Yeah. So we said that is something we have awarded as a company.

Ricky Willianto  26:48  

Well, what is the reason for that? I mean, that is quite an intriguing thing to say. Because you look at the startup landscape, just generally, right? I think growth at all costs is almost like a mantra. Right? So why have made you sought out the other way?

Rajiv Lamba  27:01  

Yeah. So again, it depends whether you’re a b2b company or b2c company. So in a b2b environment, when I’m going to the larger enterprises, I know that they have money to pay, right. And I know that without tech we are anyways, we can undercut what’s the other consulting company. Ultimately, what we’re doing is disrupting the consulting business. Somebody is providing it x, I can provide the same thing at point 6x. There’s no point for me to go 2.3x and burn more. So though, I’ve been very mindful of that fact that we don’t want to go to SME business right now we just want to go to mid to large enterprises are already using consulting companies, they’re happy with our discounting, plus much better tech element. And of course, I think going back to the question that you asked, we could have grown 5x definitely. But that puts a lot of pressure on yourself as a founder plus your team. And sometimes the question is this sustainable, because normally what happens with with large enterprises is many of the enterprises. If this year you’re selling at $1 x next year, you can’t ask for two for the same service. Right, they will never read, you can ask for a 10 to 15% increment, but you can’t ask for 100% increment on the pricing. So that’s one of the reasons we went for this approach, where we will go towards building a profitable business, our growth might be to x 2.5x, it might not be 5x. But it will create a sustainable growing company where our destinies can be in control of us. And if some investors, they like our way of doing things, or we’re still not growing 20%, we are going to x which is a decent one, even it’s part of this time. But if somebody loves this is that kind of investment, if somebody just wants 5x, every year that I can find a new investor to pump in more for the company, then every year I keep on finding one more investment company in the company. That’s not the model that we wanted. And

Ricky Willianto  28:30  

the other thing that I love about this kind of business, and I believe this must have contributed to the sustainable growth that you’re enjoying now is the synergies between the two different brands, right? So like the consulting business always somehow leads to you know, the client saying, Oh, I want something more scalable. Similarly, if someone who’s initially maybe like looking for a tech solution will always come back and say, Hey, can you also add this service? Right? How have you leveraged that interaction between the two different brands is cross selling and growing your business more?

Rajiv Lamba  28:58  

Yeah, I think it has been a beautiful leverage. I think the only challenge in that leveraging with the clients is not difficult because you know, when you go with a consultant suddenly cyberattack element, I can attach this they love it because they’re able to get more discounts. They’re able to solve more issues. So leveraging cross selling was not that difficult, building up introducing service and some to these consulting companies. When they need consulting. They still do consulting because they have money to pay. But as I said, for 90% of cases they cannot go to consulting that’s what they take time plus a small consulting in between there, so leveraging that was not tough. The difficult part was to educate our sales team to understand different products.

Ricky Willianto  29:33  

You only have one sales team to sell both is it

Rajiv Lamba  29:35  

are there what aren’t five or six. Of course, we have differentiated service and the neurosensory but we’ve ensured that everybody has at least the baseline knowledge so the moment you smell an opportunity if services and cannot get into as a consulting business positive, then we tell the salesperson to offer to getting our sales team up for both these learnings took time. It was not easy to learn different different prologues or offering different things but because ultimately who does the cross selling very well depending on the sales team Did marketing get gets in the lead sales can get in. But the biggest money comes from net revenue retention, right, which is an IRR. So ultimately, you have to have the ability of cross sell and upsell to john selling to tokopedia marketing team, I should be able to sell to the customer experience team, I should be able to sell to their HR team, because they all need the services, but training your internal team getting them up to speed so that they can talk as smartly as you talk as a leader becomes very, very important, challenging. But yeah, that’s where the mentoring comes in.

Ricky Willianto  30:26  

The other challenge that I perceive is, and this is something that I also experienced at Raven rewrite is that because we do have consulting and tech business, is that it’s really hard to position sometimes to the client, like what you are as a brand. How have you navigated that, you know, for example, right? Like, we started as a consulting, research business, right? so people know us as all like, they can do market research, I can do this kind of research, I can research but we also have this tech product that allows them to build the research team, right virtual team, but it’s really hard to kind of like, you know, explain that service that we offer without diluting the other brand. Right? So how do you do that effectively at a company.

Rajiv Lamba  31:02  

So that’s one of the reasons we came up with the brand called SurveySensun And so we could have easily launched the tech platform under neuroscience consulting. I think right from the beginning, we wanted to ensure that people see as two separate unit might be under one umbrella or parent, but this year has two separate unit service and some of the SaaS, tech, neuroscience and consulting. So that’s why the position right from the beginning was very clear to us. And once you have very clear positioning, then we always, you know, this is our sister company. And we separated the servicing team. So the consulting servicing is very different from the service and servicing. We’re servicing servicing comes from the SaaS background, like client success managers. So people who are selling SaaS who are servicing SaaS are the one who was taking in service along with the tech team, while neurotensin team completely comes from the consulting background, the likes of Nielsen’s can’t ours, and we separated these two units. So you’re interacting with neuroscience on you will interact with different set of people versus interacting with services on a that helps a lot. Yeah, that helps a lot in that position, you become differentiated. So there’s no confusion of pricing.

Ricky Willianto  32:02  

Yeah, that’s something that we’re still trying to figure out as well. So that’s really good tip for me. Should the tech company be under the consulting one consulting one under the tech or should we just split it completely and have different brands? Right, but I think what you’re saying makes a lot of sense. That worked for us, Ricky? Yeah. Yeah. I think we’ve talked a lot about your business, right? Let’s talk a little bit about yourself as well. Now, you’ve, you’ve been an entrepreneur for a long time, right? But in the three plus years, you’ve started neurosensory tell us, you know, maybe some of the things mistakes that you’ve made as an entrepreneur that maybe could be like a cautionary tale to other potential founders.

Rajiv Lamba  32:33  

Yeah, I think I will not call them mistakes, I’ll call them as learning, right? You never do something with the intent of making a mistake. Right? So there’s no mistake? I hope not. Yeah, it’s all learning. So I think what I learned when you’re not from a domain that you’re starting, for example, with neural neuroscience, some consulting, we were right on taught on day one, because we knew what we want to do with service Ensign, our first product, what happened that we looked at competition, we saw what others are doing. And we created a product, which was more than the MVP, and then we went to the market. And we realised that that’s not what the market needs. And we already invested seven months of that product, looking at somebody who’s selling the same product in us, then we have to scrap that product all over again, to create one more MVP, which exactly came from the client requirement. So the first thing basic thing that any entrepreneur has to do is to create the MVP, if it really don’t understand the domain in depth, create a minimum viable product, take it to the market, get the feedback for the service and sell our first product, which is not there. Right now, we already taken that out. Because what you see right now is a new promo, we received six or seven months to create product, which really was not the need of the market. Second, I think if you can get to your target persona, and if you cannot size your market, that becomes very, very important. So initially, in 2019, when we launch services, and we went to the SME model, and suddenly we realised, you know, SMEs is a lot of education in our market, they don’t have money to pay, and then creating a product for SMEs very different to larger enterprises. And we went to the SMEs, we went with slightly full blown product, and we wasted four or five months there again,

Ricky Willianto  33:59  

this is the second iteration of the product ready, right? It’s

Rajiv Lamba  34:01  

the second iteration of the product. The second iteration of the product was beautiful. It was perfect for the large enterprises, but we went to the SMEs.

Ricky Willianto  34:07  

Okay, were you really serving the large corporates as well? A couple of days. So you’re serving the corporate and also the SME, but okay, you’re learning something from the SME

Rajiv Lamba  34:16  

career after we went to the SMEs to learn something but what I realised that with one product is difficult to serve two different markets. The needs are different requirements are different money paying capabilities are different. The one is that I think if it can do more homework, more research. Now I know what I want, right? I want larger enterprise and midsize enterprises. But that was the journey that we came up to, to figure out what should be a minimum viable product don’t spend too much of money creating a minimum viable product, the concept of no coding, which we have just learned. Now, I didn’t learn that four years back. So can you create a minimum viable product with no coding just an assembly, can you take that to the market faster, can understand your target persona and target market much faster. If I would have learned that much faster, I could have almost you know If I were to launch in August one, nine, I could have launched that in module nine, across a flow for six months of my time. So my biggest learning has been on these two personas, size, who you want to sell? What is the minimum viable product that you want to sell to the person that he wants? and getting that right, as early as possible is a key.

Ricky Willianto  35:20  

Yeah, that’s, that’s a great list for people to you know, look out for when they’re studying. And the other thing I want to know as well as you’ve started from a consulting background in this, you know, tech industry now, what were some of the things that you had to do to accelerate your personal learning, I’ve

Rajiv Lamba  35:33  

listened to numerous podcasts. I love the podcast that you have got, I think it covers Southeast Asia. Well, I listened to your podcast, I’ve listened to some of the other podcasts of our competition, because I wanted to learn customer experience. So do some of the podcasts that I’ve gone through. So for me, how did I learn? Or I’m learning as a podcast, listen to webinars,

Ricky Willianto  35:52  

interviewing people, interviewing people, like the customers or like, you know, your competitors, or who do okay, people that

Rajiv Lamba  35:58  

you want to hire, interview as many as you can you learn a lot from them, you get you get from then you might not even hire them at times, right? So interviewing many, many people, interviewing your customers, they teach you a lot, interviewing people that you want to hire, that can teach you a lot. Some of them might be expensive, you might not even hire them and afford them but they will teach you to the difference between knowing and not knowing is very thin. Literally, the moment I’ll teach you how I do digital marketing funnel is the Oh, Roger, this is brilliant. Now I learned it right. So my way of learning was talking to customers, learn from them, talking to potential people that I want to hire, learn from them, listen to podcasts, learn from them, attend webinars, even competition webinars, learn from them, or read books, learn from them. So I think these are different sources of information that you can do in terms of improving your own personal growth and learning

Ricky Willianto  36:42  

can really see why you’re a researcher, you love your writing. They love doing these interviews. But that’s true. That is great. I think people I believe that people don’t do that enough. Not just I think this is an advice not just for founders, I feel like everyone in a company regardless of you know what you do, it’s so important for you to talk to the customers talk to the ecosystem players, talk to the industry. Listen to different perspective. I think it’s just something that is so underrated.

Rajiv Lamba  37:08  

You know, thankfully, I read a quote of Warren Buffet many years back, he said that you should read he reads 500 pages a day, I think. So my thought has been to at least finish a book, at least in a month. So my journey started five, six years back was reading books, webinars, podcasts only came two or three years back, it was before was learning to people learning to conferences, online conferences, paid three reading books. I think it’s a mix of a lot of things that you can pick. Yeah,

Ricky Willianto  37:35  

that’s great. Thanks for sharing that. So I want to wrap up this podcast. Usually we wrap it up with short, quick fire round. So just a bunch of you know, questions that you know, you can answer literally in like two seconds with the first thing that comes to your mind. So are you ready? Yep. Okay, cool. So the first question is as a founder, what is the one metric that you care most about right now? As a MRR monthly recurring revenue? What is your favourite software to help you or your company grow?

Rajiv Lamba  38:03  

HubSpot, I love HubSpot. I think our journey got transformed my thinking as a sales person got transformed. From the time I got introduced to HubSpot, our way of selling funnelling became completely different tracking every metrics became completely different.

Ricky Willianto  38:20  

Any any specific part of the is a really big software, right? Like any specific, you know, tool that you love your favourite growth strategy or tactics that you’ve used before, my favourite

Rajiv Lamba  38:28  

strategies which have worked, one is creating this marketing and sales funnel, which is normally we start from sales. Also, we have to start from marketing. Marketing should get leads for you sale should qualify and your better salespeople should convert. So that’s called as a marketing qualified lead who to sales, qualified lead and conversion. fixing that first was a big game changer for us. Second, is,

Ricky Willianto  38:51  

I believe that you’re using HubSpot to kind of like, you know, implement that framework.

Rajiv Lamba  38:54  

Yes, that’s correct. Got it. Second is the implementation of NPS which is given to our customer success team. So everything that we do, every activity did that to do even if I train you as a client, I will ask you the feedback on that training. So for everything that we do with our clients, we have an NPS measurement collection tool. Of course, we have got our own third platform, so you can collect it easily. So when we started this journey, our NPS was at 33 years back. And that was an eye opener for me, because when I looked at other companies like Amazon 60, for example, they’re the best in the class and customer experience. And we knew this because we are researchers, right? It took a journey change from 30. We are sitting at 52 right now. And that’s what our customer retention is 98%. And that is because we implemented this customer success tool management system, where we’re tracking every activity and getting a feedback from the client on every activity or what we can improve. And that NPS which was 30, very moderate to 50 to the big game changer for us from a retention perspective.

Ricky Willianto  39:46  

So can you share with us maybe this is a bonus question. It’s not a mandate. But what is one internal process that you’ve implemented in your company that is a game changer for your team.

Rajiv Lamba  39:55  

One more process that we implemented is called scrum process. Now because of this goal, situation when this happened, we found it very difficult to work internationally, we are situated in three countries. So the credit has come process, we also created a stand up meetings. So with every department, we almost have a daily stand up.

Ricky Willianto  40:13  

So you do like you implement scrum, not just in your tech team, but every almost every department,

Rajiv Lamba  40:17  

tech. And then we said, okay, no, we have to implement this in marketing, we have to implement this in finance, we have to implement this in HR we have to implement that is the consulting team. To start with Scrum from Tech move into every company, every department within the company, and every process are very, very closely monitored. Also, I think, I must tell you that I think for a startup like us, we are the best in the class for the processes. Everything that we do is measured, every activity is measured. Even if I have a call with you, and your client, on a sales call with you that activity is measured has been tracked has been reviewed by the leaders.

Ricky Willianto  40:51  

That’s amazing. And that’s very important. I mean, otherwise, if you have no data is just no way for you to analyse and improve your business. Yeah, but data is the new oil. Yeah, that people say. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. Next question is Who are some of your growth role models in Asia?

Rajiv Lamba  41:07  

I think my growth role models are not limited to HR search. I think professional if you ask I like the way shop is growing. gojek is growing, grab is growing, but I think my role models have been always from sports, right from the childhood the way I’ve been groomed by my parents, I love sports. It gets me going aggressively out here. It has taught me how to win as well as learn gracefully at the same time. So my role models have come from you know, people like Federer, for example. I love watching him his demeanour has changed big time when Federer was 17 versus Federer. 39. Yep. So there’s a guy called Henderson Dune, he was the Indian x captain of cricket team, so that you’re looking at the way, you know, they’re only 30 or 35. And the way they mature themselves, the way they talk the way they present themselves, the way they handle team, I think I love looking at them. And they are to me are the two role models that I follow, which are very close to my heart.

Ricky Willianto  41:57  

Yeah. Somebody I love sport role models, because they’re always in the public’s eye, right. So you can see exactly like, you know, what they’ve done and how they’ve changed as well. Yeah. Okay, final question. What is the best way to reach out to you and what kind of people you want reaching out to you. Best way to reach out to me,

Rajiv Lamba  42:13  

I believe is LinkedIn people that I want to reach out to me, people who want to work with us, people who want to apply to us want to work in a very passionate environment or ready to learn new things who are risk takers are some thing that I want people to reach out, of course, clients, I love clients reaching out. And third is you know, VCs, who love the game that we are in, which is a sustainable, good growth, profitable business, but it’s still growing at a decent 100% pace, or somebody who’s Welcome to reach out to us.

Ricky Willianto  42:40  

Awesome. Well, thank you so much, Rajiv. It’s been a pleasure speaking with you, I’m sure I’ll see you on the news or you know, on LinkedIn or wherever. But thanks so much for making the time.

Rajiv Lamba  42:49  

Thanks a lot Ricky’s has been awesome talking to you. I look forward to meeting you face to face once the circuit breaker opens.

Ricky Willianto  42:55  

I can’t wait. Thank you so much for listening to this podcast. Check out other episodes to hear more growth stories and hacks from experts who have been there and you can find our show on iTunes, Spotify, or via our website multiplier. See you next time.

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About Growth Multiplier

The pursuit of growth is never-ending for any business – from a small startup all the way to a large global corporation. The Growth Multiplier podcast examines pathways, strategies, and hacks companies have explored and tested in their efforts to scale up their businesses. 

In each episode, host Ricky Willianto – co-founder of Ravenry – speaks with CEO’s, growth hackers, product managers, and marketers all around Asia to find nuggets of wisdom and insights from their journey multiplying growth. 

Ricky and his guests discuss viral marketing, community building, pricing strategies, channel development, and also company culture and people. Growth Multiplier explores not only replicable successes, but also phenomenal failures that we all can learn from.

Growth Multiplier is produced by the team behind Ravenry.

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