Started playing: Q3/2017
Joined the band: Q2/2018
We had a little chat with Martin and Kair from Qualitista, one of our new band members building a tool for companies to systematically go through their customer interactions and find the relevant insights from that mass of information. These founders know each other, among other things, from Pipedrive and have built their team from people whom they trust and have worked with before.
Icebreaker (IB): Hey guys, how is it going?
Martin: It’s going well, exciting times! Now, this has become a real thing, because up until now it has been a part-time project for us but I’m actually working full-time at the moment. And we can see the results!
IB: Glad to hear! Could you elaborate a little bit on what Qualitista does?
Martin: Yeah, so what Qualitista does is basically answering the question of “how do you make sure that you give good answers to your customers even if you have a huge team even if you have thousands or tens of thousands of interactions with your customers every month?”
What we do is that we provide a system to systematically check and improve the quality of various interactions that the customer support team has with the customers.
Kair: We could use a couple of analogies to explain what we do. One is that we are like an X-ray machine at an airport (where you can scan the materials to find the good and bad things), or that we are basically doing “code review” of customer interactions.
IB: How are you going through these interactions, only with human power or do you utilize, i.e., machine learning or artificial intelligence?
Martin: That’s what we are working on. The aim is to come out with some kind of machine learning feature very soon, since going through all the interactions manually becomes inefficient when the quantities grow.
However, there is some value in going through some random samples manually, since then you can also validate what interactions/feedback are positive since it is not always about finding the shit. Majority of the interactions are actually positive, so finding the negative manually is more challenging.
IB: Sounds interesting! So could you tell a little bit about you and your background, and what is everyone's responsibility?
Kair: I’ve been involved with agencies for a long time. I started a company called Vurr, and I've been working at Pipedrive for about 5 years and had several different roles. I started as one of the two marketing guys working with everything from ads to conversion, and now I’m leading the product marketing.
So the logical step for me regarding Qualitista is to take responsibility for the marketing and company positioning part, and everything regarding communications and so on. That’s basically what I do at Pipedrive. Oh no sorry, I mean Qualitista!
Martin: Kair seems to forget which company this interview is for. But yeah, my background is also quite mixed. I started in PR, and more specifically with communication for tech companies here in Estonia. After that, I shifted more towards marketing and general management, which eventually led to me joining Pipedrive 4 years ago as the Head of Customer Support. These are the topics where I’ve got the most extensive experience, and I can say that I’m the CEO of Qualitista.
We do also have Egon working for us, who is our technological co-founder. He has built pretty much everything we have on his own, and he has a long experience from technological development.
Actually, Kair and I know each other from Pipedrive, but we have known each other for about 18 years.
Martin: So we have gone through high-school, university and started many companies (probably too many) together, I can’t tell the exact number.
IB: Nice! So we touched a little bit on your background there, but what is the most important thing that you’ve learned from your previous workplaces?
Martin: I can’t really pick one or two specific things since there are so much I’ve experienced, everything from PR&marketing to how to operate a SaaS business.
Kair: For me, it’s maybe the typical cliché that everyone tells; that you start to know quite fast if a new product really has value and is an innovation, instead of being just a new tool. Then, of course, the understanding of how to explain correctly and understand what you are working with.
Martin: But if I must choose one specific thing, it would be the knowledge of how to recruit and hire the right people, or more like the knowledge of what kind of persons do we need in this project. Many companies recruit co-founders based on one 30-minute interview or talks, which I think is crazy.
IB: That’s so true, and many companies will fail when they do that. So where did then the idea for Qualitista came from, or how was it born?
Martin: It’s like the story of Nicolas Maduro, the Venezuelan president, and the little bird that flew to him, which turned out to be Hugo Chavez; it just happened. Well, I don’t know. Me and Kair have been bouncing with several ideas all the time, and some of them have been in situations like where one of us have pitched an idea while the other one has been saying like “no no no, you’re an idiot” but some of them…
Kair: Most of them have been in those situations actually!
Martin: Haha yea, so Qualitista was a rare one that didn’t end like that. I had a real problem with this at Pipedrive, and at that time we didn’t have any tool or processes to solve these problems.
Kair: Well, you had a tool! When Martin showed me how Pipedrive have, or had, been solving these problems, he showed me a huge spreadsheet. The spreadsheet took around 2 minutes to load and had thousands of rows, which was incredibly complex to use and to understand what was going on.
When I saw that spreadsheet, everything made sense to me; if Pipedrive, which try to keep up with most of the technological advances, were using a spreadsheet in this thing, there would definitely be room for innovation here. That’s how the idea started, but the product has developed a lot after those initial thoughts.
IB: Cool! You mentioned that you have founded a couple of companies before and known each other for years, but how have you found the other team members? How have you formed this team?
Kair: All of the people we are currently working with have been working on different projects previously, so there is actually no bigger surprises or risks taken regarding the team. So as I mentioned, I worked at a large agency before I founded an own social media agency. During that time, I learned to know Egon, who executed all the development projects we had. And Martin did also learn to know Egon through that experience.
The fourth person that has also been working with us on this and on other projects is also a super solid and trustworthy guy!
Martin: Yeah, so it’s mainly people that we’ve been working with a lot in the past, with whom we have had great chemistry, and the results have been successful. When it comes to Kair and me, I think the driving force there has been that you always could look to your right and think that “it could always be worse.”
IB: Haha, it’s good to see that you have a good relationship. What are the main things you are working with at the moment?
Kair: As Martin said in the beginning, we aim to improve the quality of conversations that you have with your customers. In the end, it’s all about customer satisfaction and solving the issues as efficiently as possible. One of the big pain points is that you have found those customer cases that you need to look at, which is why we are working with machine learning.
Machine learning will enable us to really find these since it is really like finding a needle in a haystack. The first thing that we are working with is making the selection of those conversations easier, and we can do this by developing a machine learning algorithm by looking at the history to find some similarities. With doing this, we can give suggestions on which cases need more attention.
Martin: So basically there are two jobs at the moment; first one is to train new people, while the other main thing is to look at what are those patterns that turn a good conversation into a bad one, and to provide live updates and notification of this.
IB: What are your next steps then?
Martin: So what we have at the moment is a beta version of the product. We are currently onboarding users to this version and have hundreds of users who use it on a daily basis. What we are doing now is that we are thinking about the learnings from the beta product, and hopefully, we will have a brand new polished version after a couple of months. In parallel, we are focusing on recruiting, and especially backend developers are welcome right now.
Kair: Besides that, we are also testing different angles on how to introduce our product to customers so that we can find the one that would convert as much as possible.
IB: So what are your expectations regarding the support from Icebreaker.vc?
Kair: Well, we have talked about a couple of things already. As Icebreaker have a pretty wide network of companies and people, so some of them would be a good target for our solution. So that is definitely something that we would like to focus on. Other things are the consultation and providing the knowledge and experience of things that we are not aware of. That would be massively helpful.
Martin: I think that the community and network of companies are definitely bringing value to portfolio companies. Furthermore, the community reassures me, for example, if I want to ask for some help or advice, I don’t need to look very far since I can ask anyone from the community.
IB: Nice to hear! So as the last question, what kind of advice would you give to similar outrageous people like you, who would like to jump into the startup scene?
Martin: I would say that in the end, it is not as scary as it seems at first. I see it more like this way; smart and intelligent people sees and evaluates the risks that are associated with jumping into the unknown, while others take a leap of faith without taking risks into consideration. The latter one leads to that people say “it is not worth it, you will fail in the end.” The whole step isn’t any different from taking a new job, for example, since you need to be disciplined and work hard regardless is it your project or a new job.
Kair: I see it differently because the outcomes and results are much more uncertain. Obviously, it depends on what kind of job it is. I like to say that it’s like bungee jumping; you have to get the courage to jump off the edge, and it helps you to get over the edge if you know that the rope is there. The best way to ensure that everything will turn out well is to ensure that you will understand the customer. If you don’t have that, you really, really have to take that extra mile to ensure that you understand the customer’s problems. Just go out there and see what others think of your product!
Martin: Just make sure that you don’t go out on the street without your clothes on!