Vivek is the founder of Qlicket, an application platform that diagnoses the drivers of avoidable employee turnover and gets employees bought in to the best solutions to reduce the turnover. Vivek Kumar completed his MBA from University Of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business and worked for couple of years in Management Consulting and couple more years in private equity. After 4 years in NY, Vivek had a calling that he has to make an impact in this world and decided that high tech industry is where he is going to make an impact. He moved to silicon valley and worked with a company that sold advertisements for free wireless in public places before his current venture.
Tools / Books / Resources mentioned:Tools: None
Why talent retention is a big problem and employee turnover is expensive for businesses and how Qlicket is helping solve that problem.
Qlicket captures first-line feedback from employees about their concerns and addresses them as soon as possible to resolve issues.
Vivek goes into details on how Qlicket pivoted and iterated many times before it found its current growth model. Key finding was that you don’t need a fully developed product but need working prototypes to drive customer discovery conversations.
Vivek talks about the importance of resilience and how being resilient helped him from keeping the company afloat since 2011 before actually driving the growth they looked for in 2018.
Vivek talks about his own journey from a business school to investment banking to consulting to silicon valley to India and back to the US. His key findings through all these churns are to fail fast, learn from stumbles in a non-emotional way, and relying on supporters & collaborators.
Vivek goes into details on how he got first paying customers by targeting conference attendees, sending cold emails, following up with face-to-face meetings in a very targeted way. A combination of multiple strategies but in a targeted way.
Vivek’s advice to entrepreneurs is to focus on customers want and not what you find interesting, assess failures objectively and learn, and keep focusing on growth.
Episode Transcript (Click to expand)
Ramesh: Hello everyone. Welcome to the agile entrepreneur podcast. This is your host Ramesh Dontha. This podcast is about starting and building your own business with purpose, passion, perseverance, and possibilities. Today I have the CEO of Qlicket Vivek Kumar. So the Qlicket is an enterprise software service company that caters to companies that are experiencing high worker turnover environment. And Vivek himself has gone through many pivots in his life as a career and for his own company that he will talk about a very interesting background. And he has an MBA from the Wharton school as well. Vivek welcome.
Vivek: Thank you Ramesh.
Ramesh: Alright, Vivek I know I introduced Qlicket in my own way, so but why don't you explain what Qlicket does in your own words.
Vivek: Great. Qlicket is an enterprise SAS company that does talent retention for very high worker turnover environments.
Ramesh: Okay. So a talent retention means what?
Vivek: Talent retention means that we help organizations, particularly large enterprises in fortune five hundreds keep more of their workforce, particularly those on the frontline in their job, than they may be, are currently able to do. So When we think about HR, there is the talent acquisition side, which is focused on nowadays technologies that do everything from having AI to help you find the most ideal candidates to improving scheduling options for maybe those more on the front line. But the area that may be often gets a little bit more overlooked is on the talent retention side, particularly those in the frontline workforce or in high turnover environments. And so what we do is we help keep more of these traditionally high turnover workers in their jobs, who otherwise might have turned over. And it's usually due to avoidable turnover reasons. So areas that can actually be improved upon and, and fix and rectify. And that's what we help identify and help improve.
Ramesh: Okay. So now I'm intrigued. I know to retain the talent and to keep the workers management and leadership does lots of things like, you know free food, cafeteria, lots of other things, work life balance and other things. But how does your software help with the talent? Attention?
Vivek: Yeah, so what we do is we set up a physical kiosks, think tablets that are mounted on a wall or simply placed on a stand that are placed near the time clock, the break room or the restroom in a given distribution center, fulfillment center, warehouse, etc. And workers throughout the day, whether at the beginning, during the middle of the day at the end of their shift can go up to these tablets and sort of observe what's on the screen. Periodically we'll have questions on the screen, usually one or two questions anything from maybe a set of smiley faces or qualitative response options where they can provide commentary about whatever's effecting them inside and outside of the workplace. That software then feeds into a cloud based dashboard that an administrator, somebody at the organization can log into and see what factors workers are talking about that they want to see improved or rectified in the workplace.
So yeah, that's in a nutshell how it works. We obviously do benchmarking, solution analysis, content generation and more. But in a nutshell, we are able to capture feedback and illuminate problematic areas where more traditional solutions like desktop based solutions or maybe mobile based apps are not able to capture because for whatever reason, this workforce is not sitting in front of a desk or they're not able to use their mobile phones in the job or they don't want to use their mobile phones because they feel it's personally identifying. They have to download another app. So we do a great job of capturing this feedback and then analyzing the trends that are occurring and recommending solutions to improve the working.
Ramesh: That's great. So I'm assuming that you did not just sit somewhere and then write the software and made the product and then started selling out. So I mean, how did you come up with this idea? How did your business you know, come to focus in this
Vivek: Yeah, great question. We actually launched a new website and under the about tab, we actually discussed this a little bit now. So I will admit we were guilty of some of the things most entrepreneurs fall into as pitfalls. We can have a patent to our name. And we initially in previous versions of Qlicket had developed a product that we thought was awesome and then tried to sell it to people in, although it had interesting technology, we found maybe the market or customers weren't as receptive as we thought that they would be. This time around for this version of Qlicket what we talked about just now, a customer actually told us they had this huge pain. They saw a previous version of a solution we had built for people in the hospitality industry where we were collecting feedback naturally through Wi-Fi hotspots. When you were logging on, you could provide commentary about your stay and that would go to someone on staff who could resolve the issue in real time rather than being posted online on TripAdvisor, Google reviews, booking.com etc. And we saw that work really, really well, but we weren't maybe as excited about the large market potential that we had. In fact, we were growing a little bit each month, month on month. But we weren't getting this kind of hyper-growth that we were looking for. And so we were exploring different verticals where we could expand what we were doing really well, which was collecting feedback in a natural way that kind of real time resolution to these issues that people were having. And we had a meeting with someone out of a fortune 100 in the Pittsburgh area where our headquarters are based and this person said to us, my number one pain is retaining my talent, specifically package handlers. I hire a 150,000 a year. Can you help me keep more of them in the jobs? And he saw what we had built in the hospitality industry. He saw a desktop solution we'd built in HR and he said, figure out a way to solve this problem for me, for my deskless workforce. And if you can solve this for me, there is a large enough market where other people have this pain that you'll be able to do this for them too. And he was absolutely right. And so that's actually got our wheels turning. And the takeaway from that is, it was less about us having a fully built product, and more of us doing customer discovery conversations in a large customer saying, this is a pain that I have, can you solve this, even if it's kind of an MVP today, or take what you've built for another industry and customize it for this one. And you know, that's so much more powerful than us having built the widget and then having gone out to the market and trying to get them excited about it.
Ramesh: So you need market validation. So Vivek when did you start Qlicket?
Vivek: Qlicket was officially incorporated in December of 2011. We sort of had an initial version of Qlicket and as early back as in 2012 this version that we're talking about now was launched April of 2018. So it's about 18 months from launch to where we are today.
Vivek: So what was happening to Qlicket? And by the way, it's a Qlicket right? Qlicket .
Vivek: That's correct.
Ramesh: Okay. So what was happening to Qlicket from 2011 to 2017, early 2018.
Vivek: so we had about two different versions. The first version was we had this initial thesis that more people in India wanted to come online for free and they would be willing to trade 30 seconds of their time for 30 minutes of free internet. So we initially set up an ads for access model where when you were logging into WIFI at a public hotspot, say at a cafe, a restaurant or hotel and airport, you would watch an ad for about 30 seconds or interact with an ad on your computer or your phone. And you get 30 minutes of free intranet. And that was partially successful in the sense that we did campaigns with some large brand advertisers. Google, Javan, Cadbury, HDFC bank, Cisco, snap deal and others. And we did them at large airports in India, including Indira Gandhi international airport, T2, Bombay’s airport or sorry, IGIT3, Bombay AT2 and in other venues. These are pretty marquee venues in India. But it was never going to be a big business for a host of problematic areas in India. I think the overall challenge is, what we didn't think about where the macro conditions, so starting a B2B business in India that’s software based is quite challenging. I'm not sure if there are any successful players today. There's a lot of B2C success stories. People might recognize there's a lot of B2B selling global stories. But we were just sort of in the wrong place at the wrong time. And maybe having some initial traction, maybe kept us doing it for longer than we would have, longer than what probably would make sense. So we did that from about 2012 to 2014. In 2014 we launched sort of in 2015 we launched what we were doing with which was, which was setting up WIFI hotspots, mostly in hotels and we kind of moved back to the U S market. So we were serving one to two are hotels in the United States primarily EconoLodge, Wkinda, independent hotels, Motel six these kinds of hotels were often owned by Indian Americans who were looking for a value for money solution who want better WIFI for their customers. And as we were doing that, one of our customers said to us, you know, you have this WIFI login page. I like how it's really customizable. You can put a different picture there. Have you thought about collecting feedback from these hotel guests? And that would be really powerful for me if you did that. And so that was the beginning of a customer sort of telling us, Hey, this is interesting you build this for me. And that got our wheels turning, so we started doing that. We incorporated that feature set and customers loved it. They thought it was really powerful. They were saying, you literally are helping me improve my reviews and delighting customers and creating more loyalty. So we had an our peak of 125 paying customers, 80 of them were in the United States across 26 US States, 97% lifetime customer retention. And we're saying, okay, this is great, we're able to set up these customers, but how do we kind of build a bigger business around this? So we thought about going to, you know, we went to Marriott, we went to choose hotels and we sort of said to them, Hey we have the solution, are you guys interested? Cause our customers love it. Independent franchisee hotel owners. This is interesting, great, We have our own mobile app or we're focused more on our loyalty programs or we have our own vendor program, which you can, you know, pay some fees and apply to beyond, but we're not as excited maybe as you guys are about this. And even the individual franchisees. So that was in 2017 and so we sort of came to this realization, okay, we have this great small business that you know, may be considered a mini lifestyle business but was not going to be kind of this scalable venture type business that maybe we were hoping to build.
Ramesh: Hyper growth you're looking for.
Vivek: Exactly, exactly. And that's the point we were growing consistently every month, but we were not going to have this hyper-growth that we were looking for, this tight product market fit feeling where you just kind of have this pull from customers. And so that's when in 2017 we said, okay, let's pivoting again or see where we can extend this idea of what we were doing with national feedback collection now and then in 2018 we launched what we're doing now for the HR space. You know, in the span of 18 months, at that time we've gone from nonprofits to fortune five hundred, including seven paying customers. The total account value on a fully rolled out basis for all of these accounts is over $2 million of which we've already captured you know, six figures worth of that figure. The median signup time from intro to paying has been two months. And the number one source of customer acquisition has been a cold email. Warm intro is number two. And then we talked a little bit about trade shows as well. And how we sort of position these emails to line up things ahead of time. So there's been a huge difference in terms of customer interest and demand. Part of it's probably due to better market timing, heading on a market that's really feeling this pain and now executing on that. So yeah, it's been many years in the making for what hopefully will eventually be an overnight success.
Ramesh: It’s a very fascinating journey Vivek. I mean, I think one thing that's coming through my mind, I was listening to your story is the resilience, right? I mean it took you seven years to get to the growth that you're looking for a multiple pivot. So let's talk a little bit about you, Vivek Kumar as a person, your journey. So did you start your Qlicket right after your business school from Martin?
Vivek: I did not. I went in the working world for about four and a half years. Worked in consulting at a management consulting at the time was called Katzenbach partners. Now owned by PWC strategy end. And also worked at the Blackstone group for about two years, that's a large private equity firm. So both of these were in New York. So about four years in New York, was out in the Bay area for a few months at a company that was doing ads for access at the time called cloud nine wireless. It's now Wingo big public WIFI operator. And during my time there had an interest in sort of saying, could we take this idea of ads for access and take it to the developing world? And that got me moving to India. Spent a couple years there, met Dipender Tawari who heads up our technology, one of other cofounders and then eventually moved back to the U S and met John Goldschmidt, our third co cofounder. And so that whole journey kept me pretty occupied for many years longer than I ever thought this startup journey would last. I guess there's a funny saying, which is like, you think you're starting a business, but if you actually become successful with these things, you realize the business sort of picks you. And so the name Qlicket. This whole idea was you're going to click on something and get something in return, Qlicket. We want you to click. And that evolution is still true today. You know, today it's clicking on a kiosk, whether it's on the smiley face or check boxes or writing, but you're still clicking on some action. And so, you know, the evolution of this whole thing has been quite an experience. But I think if you, there's this whole debate around fail fast and just you mentioned the word resilience. I think a lot of people don't take value and maybe how much they've been learning and really trying to optimize on this journey. And I think that's maybe one thing. We really appreciate that, if you really like get to the learnings of these things, hopefully you can introspectively say, here's why maybe it didn't work. Maybe some of it's you, but maybe some of it's a lot of other factors that need to go right. And if you can be honest about that and not let your emotions get the best of you, hopefully you can find something that leads to that tighter product, market fit and growth.
Ramesh: Yup. Exactly. So I think of these, right? So like entrepreneurs, like in you and me, we go through these journeys and there are lots of times we think because you had a pretty comfortable four and a half years working for somebody else. And then as I started Qlicket and then as you're going through the pivots, you must have realized, you must have talked to yourself, like is it worth it? Do I want to do this journey? Did you go through those things and then how did you manage to answer to yourself?
Vivek: Yeah, I mean, there were a lot of low moments. There were moments where I had to liquidate my IRA to make sure the company stayed alive for us to have another chance at this. There were moments where we missed three months of payroll and we thought the whole thing was going to collapse. And fortunately everybody that we, that we sort of wanted to have stay on board stayed with us during that time and eventually we paid everyone back and more. There were moments when we were pivoting where we weren't sure. You know, we had some of our investors who immediately questioned why we were pivoting from something that was growing slowly but still growing and on a decent path to profitability. So there were a lot of those tough moments and those are the most difficult moments. And it's easy to not actually go down those routes because there's so much pressure from you as you take on more stake holders, whether they're, you know, coworkers and or they are investors or they are mentors or whoever they may be a, you face these challenges of having to really think through what the right decision is and not knowing in that moment if it is the right decision. But the thing I think to keep in mind is everyone who's working with you, if you're running these companies, is making a bet on you to figure out, to do the right thing. Its not always the easy thing, but by them being involved in some way, they've said, I trust your judgment. And we try during those difficult times and be really transparent with people to explain our rationale and continue to execute. And fortunately today we are in a better spot than we've ever been in, obviously we still have a lot to do and to execute on. But ideally it'd be great to learn these things earlier in advance and not have to spend as many years as we have to get to these points. But what I would say to people to remind them that a lot of these success stories you hear are not actually overnight successes. What often happens is people incorporate the company later on again, or they change the founding date and they make it look like things are overnight successes. But you don't see the backstory of everything that happened that led them to where they are and they often don't like talking about it. So, there's no shame in, in taking a while to get there. Hopefully you're learning, hopefully you're enjoying the journey. But it's better to hopefully get there than not get there ever, which most people sadly never even get to that point, so hopefully they find value in a lot of the work you're doing Ramesh with providing these levels of guidance and insights and actually executing on those rather than hopefully making some of the mistakes that we made.
Ramesh: Yeah. I actually, you're so right. I mean I personally, I learned a lot. And then as a matter of fact, as we are recording today, we just published that 25th episode of this podcast within less than four months. The reception has been tremendous. Like it's very positive, very encouraging of the sharing of the stories. Yeah. So Vivek now let me go onto the another segment. The reason we got connected early on because I was very intrigued by your method of acquiring your customers, how you are building the pipeline. Right. So you mentioned a little bit about that trade shows, cold emails. So if you could tell the listeners what are the different strategies that you used to get your paying customers?
Vivek: Oh boy, I should be a little careful cause if I started doing this, it might not be as effective. Yeah. Actually out of these seven paying customers, including some of our largest customers. When I say cold email, that's true. But what it's really about is exactly what you just mentioned. What were you would do is have someone in a list of the email addresses of the speakers and attendees who are attending trade shows and conferences that are relevant to the offering that we're selling. And we would reach out to them in advance of these events to try and gauge their interest in setting up a meeting or a demo. And then based on that level of interest, we would take a call on whether even one makes sense to attend the event. And if so, whether it even makes sense to get a ticket to actually enter into the event or merely to just be present at that location and to have those meetings. And I’ll tell you for any company that's just getting started, maybe the notion is often we need to buy a booth, we need to be a sponsor, we need to get our name and our brand. Of course those are all nice things. But the reality is if there is a real customer interest when you craft these great cold emails and you know, maybe you have to send a few of them, it's maybe not the very first email they respond to. You offer something of relevance to the people that are attending that event. You could get away with being able to spend so little money to acquire customers at these trade shows and conferences. And that's been super effective for us in our early days. And so something we would highly recommend people to do when they're just getting their businesses off the ground.
Ramesh: Excellent. I mean, like basically you combine many strategies and to essentially vet before even you go there and to see if it's worth your time. And I found it to be a very powerful strategy. That's really good. So yeah, it's good. I'm glad it worked out for you on then. So I think people will hear more about these things in the next few months as a matter of fact. So Vivek towards the last segment or so. First let me ask you a little bit about your own inspiration and motivation. People, or books, or movies or things that inspired you, motivated you, and then they keep in motivating you. Anything that comes to your mind?
Vivek: I recently got married and my wife's abroad and, and she'll be moving to the U S so I, I hope to be able to spend more time with her, first of all and have a balance. In terms of inspiration. You know, probably Elon Musk a couple of years ago maybe before some of the kinds of things that we see nowadays. But this idea of think about fundamental problems you want to solve and what kind of impact you want to leave on the world. About reading about him, Jeff Bezos saying the reason he partially started Amazon, I believe, is he imagined being on his deathbed at 80 years old and saying was he happy with the life that he lived? And I think for me there was this notion that there was a safe path of staying in a corporate job and continuing to do what would have been considered success on paper, but maybe didn't fulfill me personally. I think if you can find what kind of passion you have and merge that with this idea of hopefully building something that can be sustainable in some way to you. Again, maybe it's a scalable venture back type business, but maybe it's just something that's merely sustainable and provides you a level of joy. That's something that I hope everyone has a chance to aim for and, and achieve in some way in their lifetime. So you know, in terms of inspirational things, it's you know, maybe then those people. Then probably more recently I would recommend the Netflix. There's the David Letterman series with my next guest needs no introduction. And some of the speakers he gets on there you know, Barack Obama and Melinda Gates, Malala and others, it's inspiring and exciting to hear all of their stories in this new format that he's done. So that's been pretty inspiring more recently for me.
Ramesh: Excellent. So as we come towards the end of the podcast, so Vivek you talked about the learnings that you got personally and then you wish you know, you had known earlier. So any, a couple of things that are top of your mind, things that come to your mind that you could have done sooner or in a different way kind of stuff as an advice to the listeners.
Vivek: Yeah. Make something people want, not maybe just what you find interesting. Hopefully it's the intersection of both. Ideally it is. I would say growth is probably the only thing that matters if you're using that as a compass to identify if you're on to something for a scalable type business, try to remove the emotion of what you're doing. And assess it as objectively as you can. So one of the things I often like to ask entrepreneurs is if you could invest in any business right now, including your own, and you could remove yourself from the situation emotionally, would you invest in what you're making? Are you really on to something? Are you just trying to sell something to me to tell me, you know, is it more than smoking mirrors? Is there really something here? If you had the money, would you invest in your own business? I think, you know, oftentimes entrepreneurs don't have a ton of cash, but I think that's one of those tests to say if they can't say yes with conviction and look you in the eye and actually put their own money into it, then I think that's sometimes something that you maybe want to be thinking a little bit more about. So it's really hard to do that because everyone loves what they're often doing ,if they're building it, you know, as entrepreneurs. But yeah, I'd say those are some of the quick learnings that I’ve had a. Think about the macro environment. So we talked about, you know, have people been able to build successful businesses in the types of categories that you're talking about when you're thinking about being a success in a category, there's two ways that I think companies traditionally, when are you either first to market or have you built a 10X better product, you kind of can't fit in either of those buckets. You know, maybe historically in the past, cause like it had a two or three X better product. They have a 10 X better product. And so we weren't going to win. Maybe this time we're at the right place in history at the right time and we don't have a 10 X better or even a one X, we have a good product. Maybe we'll just hit the right place at the right time and were first to market and executing really well and learning from our customers. So I mean, I try to think a lot about building these businesses, these high growth tech type businesses. Yeah. But yeah, I'd say those are some of the things that immediately come to mind. Obviously we could go in a lot more detail and things, but yeah, those are the ones that come up.
Ramesh: This is great. Vivek, I mean, I think I admire you for your resilient. It almost feels like that's the right time, especially when unemployment is so low and people want to retain the talent so much. So it looks like you're the right time. Vivek Good luck to you. Good luck to Qlicket. Wish you continued success.
Vivek: Hey, thank you Ramesh. This is awesome. What you're doing for entrepreneurs and an honor to be on your podcast. I thank you.