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Thought Leaders in Artificial Intelligence: Oleg Rogynskyy, Founder CEO of People.ai (Part 4)

Posted on Thursday, Jun 17th 2021

Sramana Mitra: You are doing this out of what geography? It’s no longer Montreal, right?

Oleg Rogynskyy: I’m in Menlo Park right now. 

Sramana Mitra: You are in Menlo Park. Wow, I am in Menlo Park too. What part of Menlo Park are you in?

Oleg Rogynskyy: I used to live near downtown, but now I’m in Middle Field and March. 

Sramana Mitra: To build and train your models from the beginning, you needed access to data. It’s something that we were talking about before we started this conversation. You cannot build machine learning models without data. One of the problems that both you and I faced earlier on in our career when we tried to build AI companies is that the data was immature and not as abundant.

Today, there is abundant data that makes AI possible and scalable. However, at the beginning of an entrepreneur’s journey, accessing that customer data is always a problem for AI entrepreneurs. How did you address this problem? 

Oleg Rogynskyy: I call this problem the cold start problem. How do you cold start an engine? We were just lucky in the sense that the system that we have built has a very clear network effect. The more customers use it, the better it becomes and the more value it produces for every customer. We were able to articulate it openly. The first several customers were excited about this customer co-op where the AI is trained across everyone’s data sets.

Obviously, with privacy restrictions and confidentiality restrictions, we never share the data. We found a set of customers early on who were excited to cooperate to get the engine jump-started. Once it was there, companies were now joining People.ai because the AI is trained across much larger data sets.

Sramana Mitra: Let’s double-click down into this. I’m very much in tune with what you are saying here. In your case, who is the buyer? Is it the VP of sales? The VP of marketing? Who is making the buying decision?

Oleg Rogynskyy: It’s the Chief Revenue Officer (CRO) or the Chief Marketing Officer. It is most likely the CRO.

Sramana Mitra: Okay, so you recruited a set of revenue officers in your customer council to build the first version of the AI.

Oleg Rogynskyy: Yes, I told them, “Hey, look we will collect everyone’s data. We will anonymize it and aggregate it. The insights that we are going to come back with will guide you on how to best manage your sales teams to increase their performance based on the collective wisdom of the 50 best CROs.” It was a good enough pitch that they said, “Sure, let’s do this.” We delivered, and it started working better. The more customers we had, the more noticeable actionable insights they were getting so it created a flywheel. 

Sramana Mitra: How did you get to these CROs?

Oleg Rogynskyy: I started in sales myself. I spent the first months doing 20 to 30 outreaches and meetings per day. I got in front of them through whatever means possible. 

Sramana Mitra: A lot of LinkedIn? 

Oleg Rogynskyy: It was LinkedIn but also through introductions and going through the network. I will never forget a moment where I cold-called this sales leader and he said, “Well, the only time that I can meet with you is if you are at the San Carlos Farmer’s market tomorrow morning. I will be there with my wife and kids.” I went down to San Carlos while they were shopping for their groceries at a Farmer’s market. Whatever it took, I got there.

This segment is part 4 in the series : Thought Leaders in Artificial Intelligence: Oleg Rogynskyy, Founder CEO of People.ai
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