inFeedo Founder Tanmaya Jain: “Here Are 5 Things You Should Know to Create a Successful App or SAAS”

An Interview With Mitch Russo

The number one thing that helped me build this resilience is: I surround myself with the right people. I know it’s a blanket statement. But the definition of the right people is actually people. Either you look up to them for guidance or people who are there to comfort you when things are going south.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Tanmaya Jain. Tanmaya is a young entrepreneur who has successfully helped enterprises adopt AI in HR to increase top talent retention, enhance employee experience and diagnose culture issues using predictive people analytics. His company inFeedo launched an engagement bot in that market that is talking to more than 300,000 employees across 100+ enterprises like GE, Puma, Dominos to make their voice feel heard and valued. His company got funded on the spot at India’s version of Shark Tank. He is also known as the youngest millennial speaker to address HR leadership in organisations like Fidelity, PwC, GE, Schneider, Microsoft etc.

Thank you so much for joining us, Tanmaya! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Our journey began in 2013 when Varun (Partner and Chief Product Officer at inFeedo) and I were still in college. I came from a liberal school and the general concept of a university was a big culture shock. People were encouraged to follow a template rather than think, and new ideas were often ignored, shot down, or lost. Words like ‘hierarchy’, ‘bureaucracy’, and ‘bias’ were thrown around as justification for this. What disturbed me most was that this was a common battle across organizations where people had learnt to accept and condition themselves to such an environment. Unsurprisingly, employees felt neglected, under-appreciated, and were afraid to open up and share honest feedback with their managers.

This leads to disengagement and is counterintuitive to what an organization should be focusing on. Blaming CHROs, CEOs, and senior leadership for this mess isn’t fair either when you have an HR:employee ratio of 1:300 and 40% of their time is spent on manually tracking, collecting, and analyzing feedback. This is the gap that we recognized and felt the need to solve it using technology. That’s what led us to build Amber, our AI-enabled engagement bot.

At the time and even today, most organizations use annual or pulse surveys to collect feedback to gauge engagement levels. Here’s my question though: How can a standardized survey truly capture the experiences of different people across domains with mixed tenure? And how are employees expected to honestly answer the same set of questions? Let’s face it. Surveys don’t provide any context; they are inhuman. If you put all of this into perspective, the time and resources that go into analyzing this information leads to nothing and the results can never show an accurate measure of employee experience.

I was quite lucky that my father, who was heading Google India operations at that time, helped me with my research. He introduced me to almost 300 CHROs who shared their challenges. This helped us achieve product market fit for Amber and we were beautifully able to fill the gap.

What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?

I vividly remember telling Varun that we have reached a stalemate in our mission. 3 years into the company, we realized we were nowhere close to our vision of creating an effective employee engagement solution. I was absolutely dejected and ready to shut shop. But I decided to give it one last shot after stumbling on to this book called Sprint by Jake Knapp. This book was like a guide to building a validated prototype from an idea in just 5 days. My team and I ran the sprint for 5 days straight and at the end of it, we had a fully functioning prototype of Amber. I recall we worked insane hours; slept, ate, and built it in office. I was over the moon and could feel the adrenaline pumping through my body. It felt like we were born for this venture! Initially, once we finalized the prototype, we presented Amber to HR leaders (our target audience) and they were bowled over. Without even having the final product, we had buy-ins from 5 CXOs who were ready to pay for what we had built. In September 2016, Varun and I landed on The Vault, India’s version of Shark Tank and after the final presentation, the investors on the panel were fighting to invest in Amber. In hindsight, those five days could easily be termed our “Aha moment.”

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

It has been a wild ride so far. As much as I adore this journey, the path has been anything but a bed of roses. While growing inFeedo, in its formative years, I had to struggle with our then co-founder leaving the company. Our product was rejected by the market. 4 years ago, customers were churning randomly. I was shown the door by investors. I was even humiliated on-stage by one of our investors because I had said something which didn’t go down well with him. Overall, I’ll have to say it was an overwhelming experience; I made the announcement to shut down our startup. But things started looking up because of two mentors in my life: my own father and my friend, former CEO and founder of nearbuy.com Ankur Warikoo.

Personally, losing my beloved brother last year was devastating for me. This had a severe impact on my family’s and my mental health. I couldn’t even focus at work for a while. I realized the importance of detaching the personal from the professional and vice versa.

So, how are things going today? How did your grit and resilience lead to your eventual success?

Frankly speaking, personally, it’s been a challenge emotionally because I lost my brother in October 2018. It is hard because the memories are great. It’s a celebration to remember who he was, and what he was. It’s tough to sort of walk into the same bedroom that has only one bed and not have his stuff around. I wanted to call out this context because it is related to professional success. If I don’t have my personal self sorted, how will I be resilient at work? But with regards to the company, things are going great so far.

We grew 24x in the last two years; reached 105 enterprise customers; almost $2mn in revenue; 40% of the revenue coming outside of India; 300,000 employees using Amber and customers are raving about us on video and social media. It’s super fun and yet challenging at the same time because we’ve crossed 60 people now; people issues do compound. It’s just how we deal with it that has to keep improving. It’s been a fun and learning experience so far.

Now about the resilience and grit part — it is a great question because I would like to sort of walk you through some of the issues I’ve mentioned earlier that we encountered. I’ve had my co-founder leave the company in 2014. I had to struggle to figure out how I can work with my dad, who used to head Google India operations and is now working with us full time. Working with your dad at work is a challenge and that dynamic we both had to handle carefully; for example, don’t talk at work about home and similarly don’t talk about work at home, right? 4 year ago, our product failed. 3 years into the company and our customers were churning non-stop. I announced a shut down in 2016. I had to let go of employees because of lack of cash flow about 3 years ago. We had to handle resignations; I was shown the door by investors; customers randomly vanished, and my leadership team quit. It was too much to handle. I was humiliated on stage for something I said to an investor; investors backed out. So, all of this mayhem happened in my early years at inFeedo. Luckily, most of it ended in 2016 after Amber was born.

The number one thing that helped me build this resilience is: I surround myself with the right people. I know it’s a blanket statement. But the definition of the right people is actually people. Either you look up to them for guidance or people who are there to comfort you when things are going south.

If I were to answer the following question: who were these individuals who helped me? First in the list will be my father, who was struggling with his own startup after he worked at Google; just watching him go through that journey in itself was inspiring. His name is Palash Jain. There’s another individual Akshay, who now leads marketing for us. He has been one of my closest friends who helped me personally through my tough times, especially when I lost my brother last year. Another individual who helped me both personally and professionally. He was the founder and CEO of nearbuy.com who has about 200 talks under his name.

Ankur Warikoo is an interesting person to follow. The story essentially is that: he was a famous personality, the CEO of Groupon India in 2015. Back then, we were struggling to get our first customer. It had been two years, and we didn’t have a single customer. When I reached out to Ankur, he responded to my email and we ended up scheduling a meeting. I was super prepared and pumped about this meeting. Just before the meeting, I found out that my back-then girlfriend’s father had passed away. I attended the first funeral in my life. Our meeting was an hour after the funeral. I had to rush back home, took a shower, which is a ritual you’re supposed to follow. I rushed back to Delhi; reached late to Ankur’s meeting. Everyone knows that Ankur hates late arrivals. I couldn’t give any excuse because the last thing someone wants to know is you’re coming from a funeral. Within 10 minutes into my pitch, Ankur said, “I need this product more than you need it to sell.” I think that’s where I established the ground that this person not just believes in what we’ve built but, he believes in me, and he’s been amongst my significant pillars of support in the last four years. In fact, he likes to call himself Godfather of Amber.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?

This was in 2015, I had read about this concept called continuous integration. In simple words, it is building a system where an engineer deploys a code; if it’s a faulty code with an error, the system blocks it.

At Facebook today, almost every engineer has access to the main code base no matter what they do they can’t spoil the code base because the system blocks it.

I was very fascinated by this idea regardless of our business priority. I went to North Cap University, hired five full-time interns for 3 months and we spent our time on continuous integration and ironically till today, 6 ⅕ years into the company, we still don’t have it.

The biggest learning here is: always focus on your business priority first and then feed your enthusiasm to try new and fancy things.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

We have two core values I’m very proud of: ‘Spirit of Entrepreneurship’ and ‘Challenge with Empathy’ which is inspired from Kim Scott’s ‘Radical Candor’. What it means is that anybody who walks into inFeedo, no matter how junior or senior they may be, literally has almost complete autonomy to do whatever they want within their areas of expertise; 100%. We have a popular phrase internally, we call it ‘Swim or Drown’. For example, when we started out, metaphorically, I had a glass of water in my hand and it was my job to expand that water to a bowl of water, to a pond, to a lake, to a river, and to an ocean. Now, it is everyone’s job to swim wherever they want and do whatever they want as long as it’s aligned to the company’s outcome. We follow the OKR framework which is also adopted by Google, Salesforce, etc. but the difference is that people have 100% autonomy to create their OKRs. And that’s the ‘Spirit of Entrepreneurship’.

The second value ‘Challenge with Empathy’ is close to my heart. We are living in a time where 58% of individuals trust a stranger more than their own manager, according to HBR. Coming back to inFeedo, how do we fix that problem? Radical Candor is a concept where you actually open up with 100% honesty, no matter how hurtful or direct it is, as long as you’ve empathy. There is so much encouragement for feedback to one another internally. Sometimes you end up with a feedback paradox, and that’s fine. The level of communication, openness, honesty, and bluntness is phenomenal. Even a fresher can walk up to me and can point out; you know what Tanmaya, from 100 speaking sessions, 99 were great, but today, the one you delivered was absolute crap. You could have done a better job. And here are three reasons why. And that’s the kind of people I like to be surrounded by who can actually question what’s wrong, and what’s right. Similarly, everyone loves to have such people around them. So those are the two core values that help people who are or will join us.

Now, answering the question from a product standpoint: How do we stand out?

I ended up meeting 300 CHROs in the last few years right after Amber was built. I realized, with annual engagement surveys around, employees have just become a number in the system. Everyone gets the same set of questions at the same time. If someone leaves, we use words like ‘backfill’ to replace the employee. We’ve lost human value. I think one primary differentiator about our mindset was we care about how employees feel, not just within our own company, but also everywhere.

Our mission statement is to make the voice of every employee feel heard and valued; the only way to do that is by doing that ourselves. I think that is made possible with our product Amber who talks to employees about their feelings and on the basis of this data, she informs the CEOs and CHROs about those who are not happy and are most likely to leave. Finally, she draws a trend line from first to last day that perhaps … Tanmaya felt great in his first three months of joining, but the engagement has tanked right after due to specific issues with his manager. That’s the power of data today.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

My only tip to everyone as an individual more than an entrepreneur is to focus on your life and not just on your work.

I’ve noticed when people build their list of priorities, it starts within their work and ends within their work. For example, my priority number-one would be fundraising, followed by entering the US market, and hiring Director of Products. It’s just work, work, work! And then, there’s this sense of romanticizing overclocking of work hours; seven days a week. This is an area that I disagree entirely with Elon Musk. I would love to go on record that the idea of spending 12 hours a day, 7 days a week and that being a method of beating others — it is just not sustainable.

I recommend that everybody build a list of priorities in their life first and then work. For example, my list of priorities right now includes:

  1. Focus on experiences in life because they’re priceless. And that’s the kind of currency I want to earn.
  2. My work, which is just one line item.
  3. My music, which starts with the Piano and ends with the Saxophone. I wish I could play more.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. Approximately how many users or subscribers does your app or software currently have? Can you share with our readers three of the main steps you’ve taken to build such a large community?

Amber talks to more than 300,000 employees now from 100+ organizations spread across 46 countries. Before we onboarded a full-fledged sales and marketing team, most of our growth came from word-of-mouth marketing/influencer marketing. We are very fortunate that we get so much love from our customers and even from employees in those organizations. Recently, we attended TechHR; a leading networking event in India where HR leaders across industries gather under one roof to brainstorm, share ideas, best practices, and collaborate with solutions providers who can solve the burning challenges of the industry using tech. We got numerous shoutouts for Amber on-stage by our existing customers at the event. So, our growth so far has been all inbound.

Another channel that has worked for us is events. Starting from 2019, Amber has embarked on a journey to travel around the world. When we recently introduced Amber to people (HR leaders and CEOs) at an HR event in Denver, people were pleasantly surprised. For most of them, a chatbot is essentially a query answering bot, they are amazed how it can empathize as a human would. So far, we have received a lot of admiration for what we have achieved but these are very early days for Amber.

What is your monetization model? How do you monetize your community of users? Have you considered other monetization options? Why did you not use those?

Since we’re a SaaS company, we follow a subscription model for monetization where we charge our customers based on the number of employees they have. We primarily work with organizations with more than 200 employees because our proprietary AI algorithm needs more data points to accurately deduce reports and derive conclusions based on which it suggests “People-to-meet” aka those who are most disengaged and about to leave.

Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know before one wants to start an app or a SaaS? Please share a story or an example for each.

My journey in the SaaS world started 7 years back when I was still in college. What I’ve learned in my entrepreneurial journey is ‘Always have a bias for action’. You need to be quick with actions and patient with results. SaaS is a journey where you have to move fast to survive and you’ll never end at a system or a process that lasts forever. As you grow or you scale, you need to keep reinventing your systems in place. As an entrepreneur, getting your hands dirty shouldn’t deter you.

There was a time when I built my first app from scratch, learning coding as I went. Soon I had to grow and as we started getting customers, my focus shifted over there and for coding we hired a freelancer based out of the US. However, that only lasted for so long and I had to hire our first engineer.

Being a third-year college student, it was a bit unnatural to go to another university and convince someone to trust me with their career as they started out. And today we are a team of over 20 engineers. Things keep evolving and you need to embrace these changes and keep evolving with them as you grow.

The learnings over the years, through multiple pivots, failures and finally coming to 2016 when Amber was born, these learnings have now become our Core Value:

● Spirit of Entrepreneurship

● Spirit of Sportsmanship

● Challenge with Empathy

● Embrace Change

● Data-Driven

● Deliver WOW through Service

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Mental health is a cause that I’m particularly passionate about. We live in a high-paced, always “on” world. It’s not surprising that most of us have endured some form of trauma that adversely impacts our mental well-being. Last year, my younger brother passed away because of stage IV cancer at the age of 17 within one year of diagnosis. It was something my entire family struggled to deal with. In both these situations, there is a complete lack of importance given to mental health and resilience.

I say this because your mental health will have an impact on your physical health. There are some precautionary steps you can take towards taking care of your mental health. Something as simple as meditating, speaking to someone about your issues. There are many times in life when one feels cornered. Therapists and counselors can help you with that and it’s time we breakaway from the stereotype that it’s only extreme cases that they can be helpful with. It’s just the idea of focusing on your mental health and having someone to talk to, which solves the problem most times.

To summarize the movement, I’d like to start something very similar to what Sheryl Sandberg has started. It’s a concept called Option B. She’s is the COO of Facebook. She started this after her husband passed away, who was the CEO of SurveyMonkey. It is around the idea of focusing on mental health before physical health and how one can build resilience and like something as simple as how to talk to a family who’s going through cancer. Option B is the movement I wish I were the CEO of. That’s my answer to the second one.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

I am fairly active on LinkedIn, you can follow me at https://www.linkedin.com/in/tanmayajain/ or send a ‘Hi’ or any question to tanmayajain@infeedo.com. I frequently speak at various HR conferences, forums, and networking events around the world. I would love to catch up sometime with you all and know your side of the story.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

Thank you so much. Cheers!


inFeedo Founder Tanmaya Jain: “Here Are 5 Things You Should Know to Create a Successful App or… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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