100% growth month over month, 2 million raised RFPIO is changing RFP Automation Space Ali Salman
Read the interview…
Q: How did the idea come about for RFPIO?
A: The product idea was purely based on myself and my cofounder’s experience of working with RFPs. It’s not like we thought about a cool idea while working in a garage. That’s not our story.
This happened in the corporate world where we used to respond to many RFPs. At the end of the day we figured out there was not a good tool that solved this problem, so we took it into our own hands.
Q: How long ago did you get started?
A: Spring 2015.
Q: What industries are you focusing on? Our company uses proposal software, but your product is more in-depth.
A: The industry we serve is a little different than just proposal management. We see RFPs more as project management, because every RFP requires more than one person to collaborate. Somebody contributes to technology answers and someone else contributes to the product.
If you look at proposals, they are typically handled after an RFP has been awarded to a vendor. We serve predominately to technology companies, mid to enterprise, who sell technology to their customers and go through this RFP process. RFPs are industry agnostic—and we do have some construction, financial services, and healthcare companies—but we focus specifically on tech companies.
Q: Share with our listeners some numbers around your growth from the past two years. How your company has grown since you guys launched.
A: I’ll break those two years into multiple segments. Any startup will be in stealth or development mode when your product is not ready. We launched our beta in early 2016 and became more available to customers.
Now we have more than 40 customers across industries. We also raised $2 million in funding from venture capitalists, and we are one of the fastest growing Portland startups in terms of revenue and number of customers. We have grown month over month, with an almost 100-150% increase.
Q: That’s impressive. You guys probably have less churn too, since once you enroll these big corporations and getting them started on implementation can be hard.
Q: If you build your product around your customer’s pain points, and if your churn is low, your customers will keep paying you if you generate enough value for them. The RFP process is a pain point that exists that you are trying to solve.
Q: Share your morning routine and anything you do before you head to bed.
A: Since we have an office in India, they start to work when we go to bed. So, I have a call with our product and engineering team every night, starting on Sundays. Yes, it can be tough but it’s something I really enjoy. I love talking to my team every day. The night before, I try to be 70% ready for the next day with meetings, reports, and calls.
Q: What are you using to communicate with your team between offices. Slack or Skype?
A: We use a couple of communication channels: Slack and Google chat. I prefer to talk in person instead, so I usually call my team members directly and they have the freedom to call me any time.
I also believe this open communication is why we have zero turnover. Our team has grown to 19 and we have not lost anyone.
Q: Share one of the personal habits that has directly contributed to your success.
A: Networking. It gave me my first set of employees, customers, and funding. For anyone aspiring to become an entrepreneur, I think networking is key. I believe we wouldn’t be here without the people that supported us and I am fortunate to have that kind of network around me.
Q: How do you achieve your goals? Do you have a tool, strategy, or any technique that you use?
A: We knew the RFP response problem existed globally, but we wanted to narrow our focus in the Portland market. For a startup, the first paying customer is important.
Especially when you are in a thriving community, these companies in an upcoming market are willing to support startups if the product or service solves a purpose for them. It’s give and take, and it may not work for everyone depending on the city you live in.
Success is not an end. You have to keep the bar set high. Everyone defines success in a different way, but for us, working with our customers is the success. The most important thing we have learned is that happy customers make your business happy.
Q: If you would have started your business, what would you have done differently?
A: As an entrepreneur when I first started, I was paranoid about scalability and funding—and if I was going to be able to feed my family. If I had to start now, I would be less scared. As long as you have a good product and team behind you, you don’t need to worry.
Q: What has one of the biggest challenges been in your entrepreneur journey so far?
A: Attracting talent as a startup. Not everybody understands the startup mentality, and I don’t blame them as obviously there is a risk involved with pay and scalability. I already had a development team, but looking outside my areas of expertise with marketing and sales was challenging. Today we have a strong team in those roles.