ConnectLeader CEO Senraj Soundar has bootstrapped his company to over $10 million in revenue. We love stories like this that reinforce our philosophy: “Do not go to VCs as beggars, go as kings!”
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start at the very beginning of your journey. Where are you from? Where were you born, raised, and in what kind of background?
Senraj Soundar: I was born and brought up in India, particularly in Southern India. I got my Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering in Chennai. Around that time when I graduated, I received an award from the President of India for the best invention in the country. It was called the National Technology Award. They give out one award each year. I won that award in 1991, and it was given in 1992. The following year, I came to the US and went to UMass to get my Computer Science degree.
Sramana Mitra: UMass, Amherst?
Senraj Soundar: No, UMass, Lowell. I graduated from there within 10 months to take my Master’s degree. I was a full-time student back then. Then I began working in the Boston area for a few years. At the age of 27, I founded my first IT consulting company. I grew the business to a $3 million run rate within the first three years.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start there a bit since that’s the beginning of your entrepreneurial journey. What kind of work did you do in that business?
Senraj Soundar: I hired, trained, and managed a team of engineers in software development. We were primarily hired to manage other companies’ software systems as well as write software products for them. That business, after a couple of years, expanded into an offshore product development company. One arm of the company was built in India. That happened about three years later. Then the company was operating for multiple years. It grew to 200 people. That’s the history there.
Sramana Mitra: What time frame was all this happening?
Senraj Soundar: Between 1997 to 2004. While I was still operating that business, I began branching out to write our own product. We were an outsourcing product development firm. I branched out to build our own software business. We wanted to build a CRM company.
About four or five years later, we had a very nice product and were about to ship the product. We signed up with a distribution channel and even acquired 25 customers. But I made the decision of shutting down the product because I realized that the market was getting crowded. It was not a good idea for us to continue. We took the product to the drawing board. We wanted to build something that can complement CRM. We turned to whatever problems we can solve around CRM.
We realized that CRM is a good database of customer records and transaction history. Beyond that, it doesn’t do much work for the sales rep. We wanted to look up sales productivity in general. Also, we were observing our own sales team of 8 to 10 people. I noticed that it was always challenging to hire a sales rep. We had to wait for 9 to 12 months to see whether they are going to be productive.
Often, you find the job is not the right job for that individual. It’s not good for the employee, nor is it good for the employer. You had to make changes at a later point in time. We were looking at solving this problem. Instead of waiting for a year, can we accelerate or compress the timeline to three to six months. We were looking at several ways to improve the sales productivity.
If you look at the sales desk, a sales representative needs to talk to their customers. They work very hard all day. Still, they end up talking to three people. That’s all the day’s worth of work. We wanted to change that. We began designing our first product in 2008. It took about three to four years. We took that product to market in 2011. We saw a lot of good market adoption around that product.