In part one of my conversation with Pedro Alves, the founder and CEO of Ople, he talked about bringing the power of AI-powered data processing to organizations previously unable to access this technology.
In this second part of our conversation, Pedro talks about letting his genuine excitement for his vision guide him through the often repetitive task of starting a company, and he also shares how he learned you sometimes have to ignore the advice from successful entrepreneurs.
More information: https://ople.ai/
Pedro Alves is the founder and CEO of Ople Inc. in San Mateo, CA. Pedro loves data science and has spent the past nineteen years working in the area of artificial intelligence – spanning predicting, analyzing and visualizing data across social media content, photos, genomics, insurance fraud/costs, social graphs, human attraction, spam detection, and topic modeling to name a few.
Realizing how rarely companies get a return in investment in the areas of AI and data science, Pedro decided to found Ople.show more
Ople.AI empowers organizations to utilize predictive analytics, enabling users to gain deeper insights from the historical data to optimize future business outcomes. With its unique Automated Machine Learning technology, the Ople.AI Platform intelligently manages all the complex operations, including data preparation, feature engineering, model creation, optimization, and deployment.
Pedro also enjoys the startup world, his family, intermittent fasting and helping other companies and startups make the most out of their data science efforts through advisory work.show less
DISCLAIMER: Below is an AI generated transcript. There could be a few typos but it should be at least 90% accurate. Watch video or listen to the podcast for the full experience!
Pedro Alves 0:00
No matter how many people you have in your company, how many, you know, smart people with different backgrounds, you become blind to obvious faults in your products, you just don’t see it, you don’t understand where a difficulty could be in using your product. Right? And you need different set of eyes all the time.
Alexander Ferguson 0:26
Pedro, I’m excited to continue our conversation now hearing about your journey. Where did it begin? And how did you get to where you are today?
Pedro Alves 0:36
So I always thought, you know, at some point, I’m gonna, I’m gonna want to build a company of my own, right, even when in school, and then I got my first job. And then I started to notice, okay, I think I see, you know, I mentioned before, write some difficulties in the field of data science. And maybe that’s a space there for, for a business, but I hadn’t really firmed up the idea yet. Then I moved on to my next job, which was when I first moved to Silicon Valley, it’s my second job in the industry. And then being here kind of opened my eyes to a lot more, there’s so much, so many, many more opportunities for you to chat with, with people that are involved in AI, data science, and also entrepreneurship and starting companies. And then, maybe it was when I was in my third job, where I started thinking a little more seriously about it. And then after my fourth position, and some of these were not super long. So my fourth job, I was there for one year. And during that time, I thought, Okay, my next thing I should, I should do my own thing. Because at that point, I thought, I think I have an idea of what I need to go out and do. Right, so So then everything kind of materialized. And a lot of the work. After all the technical work, a lot of the work is people work, you need to talk to so many people, to hire people to get people to give you money. And and I always liked that, that I liked chatting with people, I like having interesting conversations, it can get a little repetitive sometimes when you’re pitching the same idea, with the same level of enthusiasm. 6070 8090 times Imagine having the exact same conversation in three weeks, 90 times. It’s not a short two minute conversation. If it goes well. It’s like an hour. And with the same big smile, and you know, and you know, here’s the interesting thing, though, after many, many, many, many, I would start to, I’m gonna have that conversation again, you know, I find myself in that position of, oh, man, here we go. All right, let’s do this. But every time the conversation would actually start, I would naturally get genuinely just as excited. Every time, there was no faking of excitement, I would dread it just for the 30 minutes before the call sometimes. But it was something I was that passionate about that even after the 90th conversation that was identical, I would be equally genuinely excited to be having that conversation. And when I’d finished it, I’ll go like, wow, that wasn’t bad at all. That was great. I love this stuff. See, you’re doing the right thing.
Alexander Ferguson 3:43
You know, you’re doing you’re on the right track, when you can say 90 times and within three weeks long conversation and still have that excitement. Yeah, yeah. I love that. So going back then to that initial time where you’re getting started, what kind of tactics did you implement, that you can share on getting additional funding, like getting that initial funding? What did you do?
Pedro Alves 4:07
Talk to a lot of people. There’s, I mean, it’s a numbers game, you know, you might find, you might have a fantastic pitch. That’s, that’s already a great right Step Put puts you out there, right, you might have a fantastic product and a fantastic idea. But things that are out of your control might prevent you from getting money. You you you have the best pitch in the world, the best idea in the world, but the person you’re talking to doesn’t understand it. Or they don’t like that space that you’re in, or they’re in the phase of their fun that doesn’t really match with what you’re looking for. It doesn’t match that type of investment. Or they just don’t like you as a person. Or, you know, there’s like a million options of things that you just Can’t control no matter how good of a pitch. So that’s why it ends up being just a numbers game, finding the right person, that that really connects with you, and connects with your idea, and isn’t the right time of their fun, and is looking for the right thing. And, you know, Bob above about when you add all those things up, probability gets really small getting money, even if you have everything right. That’s why you see all these stories of these super successful companies, you know, having a, you know, 300 pitches before we got our first check, you know, I didn’t get the 300 pitches, but still, you know, you need to, you’re gonna find a lot of difficulties there. I always found it interesting. I’ve attended a lot of groups, and, oh, how to do a perfect pitch, here are some companies that are great at raising money. I don’t want to sound cynical or too critical, but here goes, bring it. Yeah. The few times that I’ve that I’ve attended, I think I’ve attended a handful of similarly, pitched meetups slash, you know, these meetings, where, oh, here’s three people from these three different startups that raised, they’re really good, they’re going to teach you how to raise money, right? It was almost always, I’m trying to remember if there was a different one, but I can’t right now. Where they, they raised money because the company was succeeding. So but the stories are always the same. But the same exact story, which is all Yeah, our first check was super hard. You know, it took us like 18 months of doing work with absolutely no money. And then after 18 months, we got our first check for whatever $500,000, then we spent another year. And then finally, the product kind of clicked with the customers. And we went from two customers to 10 to 100. And all of a sudden, we had you know, four or $5 million in ARR, and annual revenue. And then all of a sudden, boom, we had, you know, 50 offers for money for us. And we were pitching it this way. And we were getting all these offers. And then I was like, that wasn’t because of your pitch. That’s because you were at $55 million in a recurring revenue, you could pitch nothing at all. And you’d still have offers. So few companies get quickly to, you know, like two $5 million arr. And they would then talk about how great it was, and all these offers and competing offers, and then they raise all this money. And they would talk about all the fun part of getting all this money dropped on them. I would be thinking like, no, like, this is not a person that is quick to teach me how to do a pitch. They succeeded because they can maybe pitch me about how to do product management. And and you know, like they clearly built a fantastic product, I’m not taking away the credit, they succeeded the hard way, they made a fantastic product. They figured out how to sell how to market and how to build a product. So if they’re teaching you one of these three things, I’m all yours. But to have them teach me about how to just pitch to raise money. They clearly didn’t do a good job, because it took him 18 months to get their first check. Right? Show me somebody that raised money fast. And with no revenue. That’s a person I want teaching you about pitching. Because that’s where a lot of people are going to be that’s position most people are going to be in. So anyway, I always thought that was just, you know, just bad. Like, that’s not the right fit. Just because the company raised $150 million doesn’t mean they’re good at raising money. To me, their stories clearly show they’re not good at raising money. They’re good at building a good product.
Alexander Ferguson 8:58
So which I suppose in the long run that that is kind of the essential part, but it is a question. What are you going to someone to learn from? Yeah,
Pedro Alves 9:07
yeah, exactly. They did nothing wrong. They clearly had a great idea and knew how to execute and that’s fantastic. teaching lessons they need to teach.
Alexander Ferguson 9:17
But speaking then of after, you’ve kind of got the product and you’ve got you’re ready to start finding your first customer. How did you get your first customer? That initial one What did you do?
Pedro Alves 9:31
Same thing as raising money. Talk to a lot of people and you learn a lot and you get a lot of nose and you smile and you get excited about your product. And you know a lot of feedback, right you you realize that you no matter how many people you have in your company, how many you know smart people with different backgrounds. You become blind to obvious faults in your products. You just don’t see it. You Don’t understand where a difficulty could be in using your product, right. And you need different set of eyes all the time. And part of it is also be equally critical of your own product as your as yourself. So that the whole what you learn in the journey and the biggest thing for me, and it kind of mirrors the the answer in what I would give to the product is, I became my own harshest critic. And, you know, I wanted to give the startup the best shot possible, which meant I needed to be the best version of me possible. Right, so facing my fears, becoming an incredible critic of myself. And, and I think doing the same thing to your product is is important part part of that personal growth journey for me, had some, you know, some crazy things like three and a half years ago, I was going to and I still do all this introspection. And I never watched a ton of sports, but but there’s a couple sports that I followed. And I thought really hard about sports. And I said, I shouldn’t watch sports ever again, if I want to do a startup. And I and the reasoning behind that was when when your team wins, right? What’s the language you use? You say we won? Right? That means you think you partly won something? I don’t know what we’re just watching them on TV. But we won, right? Everybody says that. And so I thought, I want to win at this startup game, right? I want to win I want to succeed. And clearly watching sports gives you the feeling of winning a little bit. And if you have that filling, that that feeling, filling your life, then you’re going to be a little less hungry for your own personal winning, because you’re feeling the feelings of winning. And deservedly so you didn’t do anything to feel that feeling you shouldn’t feel that feeling. So
Alexander Ferguson 12:09
stay starving yourself have any sense of of a winning so that everything’s focused on your company,
Pedro Alves 12:16
super hungry for actually winning where it matters. And so I haven’t watched sports three and a half years. I mean, I’m from Brazil, I didn’t mean watch the World Cup. Wow, two World Cups in the last three and a half years? I don’t know. I haven’t watched. But but you know, so that’s so that’s something I thought was kind of important. There’s a bunch of these little weird things that I’ve done in the whole personal growth thing. But I think they’re important.
Alexander Ferguson 12:41
If you you need to find what works for yourself to be able to keep pushing forward to create that desire to win. Yeah, for sure. No, going from that initial customer. He says, again, numbers game, just seeing who wants to talk and wants to talk wants to talk? What have you done to then scale up from there? 110 100 more. Any tactics you can share?
Pedro Alves 13:05
No, I mean, well, there’s scaling of the team. And to me, the hardest thing is managing, you know, people, right? And going from, you know, when we started and it was just for for most of the time, those four of us in the beginning to
Alexander Ferguson 13:26
what are you today?
Pedro Alves 13:28
So today, we’re 1818 Yeah, I think 1818. And so it’s not, you know, it’s not sounds like a big growth. And we actually actually had a bigger point, I think the biggest we got was 25. And then we got back down to 18. So we went from four, and then all of a sudden, it became 678. And that sounds like a really small thing, like hiring two, three more people. But going from four to eight actually felt very different. And then, you know, getting to, you know, 1213 1415 and all of a sudden getting to 25. So, scaling the team, scaling how you meetings, how you distribute information. You know, how often have you meet together? Just I think the the internals are always the it’s always one of the hardest things in companies is people, people, people problems are difficult.
Alexander Ferguson 14:27
Physically, just so easy if there wasn’t people involved.
Pedro Alves 14:34
There also wouldn’t be much of a product if there were no other. There wasn’t make the product about that. Yes, yeah, it’s managing people. It’s a whole new set of talents that you need to develop.
Alexander Ferguson 14:44
If you have to pick one thing that you learned, or tected that you were able to implement that helped you in scaling the team and the culture. What could you share?
Pedro Alves 14:55
At some point you never tably reach phase that or stage, I guess, that becomes very difficult to keep the culture. And I’ve seen that I’ve, you know, I’ve been in companies that scaled from, you know, 20 to a couple 100. And that’s a difficult transition, that’s probably one of the most difficult transitions is that range between, let’s say, 20, and 40. And then the range that goes between 40 to a couple of 100. That stage to that other stage, that might be one of the hardest stages. And we didn’t go through that yet. So but, but I’ve been in companies that that went through that. And that’s probably the hardest in keeping the culture, because then you have so many more people, and you’re hiring so much quicker. It’s difficult to hire somebody that’s a good cultural fit, because you’re, you’re just hiring faster, and there’s more people making the decisions and who’s getting hired, you’re no longer talking to everybody that’s getting hired, right? At this stage, I talked to everybody that we’re hiring, right, every single person. And so we can do the evaluations of is this going to be a great fit, you know, the you you fit with us. And then you lose that a little bit, inevitably with size, and you try to keep it and some companies have been more successful than others. But when companies can actually keep their cultural DNA, and it’s very much worth doing it. And certainly some companies that even get in the 1000s still successfully do it. A that’s extremely hard. But be that’s extremely beneficial, like those companies always do well, because, and that’s something else that investors need is they need to invest in a good team. Because they know that ideas, change, that what you thought you’re going to build ends up changing Anyway, the thing that doesn’t really change, you know, and it can’t change, but what you’re investing in isn’t isn’t the team, you’re betting that the team is going to figure out, the hurdles are gonna be thrown their way. And so building a strong team and maintaining a strong team. And we’ve always had luck with with Team. First year, we had, we hired a few people, but we only posted online, I believe two jobs. And we had over 25,000 people apply for those two positions. So we’ve always had the benefit of picking the best of the best because of the interest we’ve always had, and people joining our company. So we’ve been blessed with with fantastic people through the entire journey,
Alexander Ferguson 17:40
you share a great point of that there are stages, and there’s unique challenges to each stage. Even notating that like going from, you know, four, or five, and then to eight and then up to 25. Now back to 18. What, what would you say? You look for in those initial hires when you were going from four to eight? And then what would you have done differently, if anything? In the last couple years of hiring and mindset?
Pedro Alves 18:07
Yeah. In the beginning, it’s really important to hire people that sounds a little counterintuitive. Now that I think about it, but your team is really small. Which means you have time to chat a lot more with each other, because it’s such a small team. But at the same time, you want people that are self sufficient, you know, independent, and self driven, right? People that really have a drive, because even though there’s a few people, and it’s easy to talk to each other, but there’s so few people for the amount of work that needs to be done, that if you have people that are, you know, kind of they need structure, and they’re codependent and they, they’re not a, oh, I encountered this problem. And it’s not something at all, you know, like you have a software engineer, and they encounter a DevOps problem. And they’ve always worked at a big company. So they’re like, oh, yeah, let me hit up it and talk to DevOps person, they’re gonna solve this for me, like, there’s no it, you’re it. Like, that’s you, you solve it. And then some people thrive in that type of environment, and some people don’t. So, in the beginning, especially finding people that can wear multiple hats, people that are curious and are going to figure things out themselves, that don’t depend on others, you know, and that can handle pressure and stress. I always bring that up in interviews, and I will be very honest and upfront, there’s going to be massive amounts of pressure and stress. You should be able to thrive in that environment and not crumble and it’s not for everybody. But I mean, there’s good times and bad kind of pressure and stress. And I always said I think we have the good kind of pressure and stress but it’s up to you to find out. Front about it, you know, yes.
Alexander Ferguson 19:59
Um, let you know there will be I think it’s a good pressure. Just be ready for it. Yeah. Well, speaking then of just this year, and going forward of this unique world that we’re in right now, what kind of challenges have do you see in both internal as well as external communication with clients, as well as employees? What are you going working on? And what do you need to move forward?
Pedro Alves 20:24
Yeah, we’re, we’ve been working remotely for since March now. So quite a few months, and we do pretty well. So I’m happy about that. And so that’s, that’s a big change. Right? Not seeing the team and camaraderie and eating together. And, you know, so you lose some of that. We still do sometimes, you know, like, happy hours on, on, on virtual happy hours, where we just have a whole meeting that we chat about no work at all, just like fun. What are you doing this weekend? And, you know, what’s a good movie you saw recently, and trying to keep the spirit alive? The other thing I’m noticing is everybody. So you know, you always talk to other intrapreneurs. And they ask, you know, how are sales? How easy is it? Is it affecting your business, and some businesses are directly impacted by my COVID, right, like, if you physically can’t open your doors, or there’s gonna be there, but everything is getting indirectly impacted, right, and the way is a software we sell, maybe companies still want to buy just the same, but they’re getting gets indirectly impacted, because everybody is so stressed. And there’s so much going on, in their jobs or in their personal lives, that things just lose priority, right? And it’s easy for people to now forget about meetings more frequently, or just delay them and say, Hey, I’m really interested in this. But can we just reschedule this meeting that was supposed to happen in a few days to like a month from now, because my boss XYZ or my company, ABC did this. And now, or this is happening with my team, like, there’s so much happening right now that this is happening a lot more. And that’s the difficulty is getting it to be top of mind when people already have a million things that are raining down on top of their mind. So that’s a that’s a big thing. And people are starting to get used to the new normal. So it’s starting to die down a little bit. And they’re getting trying to get back to a normal life cycle. And that helps.
Alexander Ferguson 22:45
Whatever the still figuring what what is that exactly to normal. But I agree, we’re getting into this new how you keep that communication going externally. That’s the challenge that I’m excited to hear. Are you guys are able to do that. From the past, RD, before we started running a business, and since you’ve been running a business, is there any books, audio books, podcasts that you’ve listened to that you’ve got a lot of insight and have learned from and, and would recommend?
Pedro Alves 23:15
I like Blinkist, the company that’s an app, I don’t know if you know that. Basically, they summarize books, like really small nuggets, so it’s easy for you to figure out if that’s a book you should go read. So what they they get books, and they summarize them into normally, like 15 minutes, it’s like really short, right? So you’re not going to get in depth, but you’re going to get a pretty good overview of what that book’s gonna cover. And, and I find it’s more than just, I mean, you know, it’s much better than just reading like a little tiny paragraph, they actually talk a little more, because it’s, you know, they got 15 minutes. So I like that a lot as a tool to figure out, you know, in 15 minutes, you could do, you know, every night before bed, do a couple or you know, and then this way, in a week, you went through so many of those, and now you have a much better idea of oh, if I’m going to read my next book, you know, this is the one I’m going to read because now I know so much more about it. So I’d recommend that they don’t pay me to advertise for them. But I just I really enjoyed that. And I’ve been using that for not a year yet, but maybe seven, eight months.
Alexander Ferguson 24:31
Last question I have for you what kind of tech innovations do you predict we’ll see in the near term, the next year or so. And long term? 510 years.
Pedro Alves 24:40
Every conference I’ve been to in the last five years somebody asks the Speaker How many months away I read from Skynet happening Skynet from the Terminator, right from, you know, somebody’s searching for Sarah Connor basically. And you know, that’s where people think they think that we’re months away from From Skynet, so we’re here. And when I say we’re here, I mean, the very, very bleeding edge researchers here, then you get to the companies that know what they’re doing with AI, and they’re another mile down. Then we get to 99% of all the companies. And they’re like, you know, 10 miles underground, where I’m sitting, like, and so there’s these massive gaps, right? Obviously, the most exciting gap is to get from where we are today, to where we imagined we are right, even though I guess Skynet would be a bad thing. But, you know, bridging that gap of excitement, right, people will get super pumped about getting, you know, general intelligence and all that stuff. You know, but there’s so much more that can improve everybody’s lives with the less exciting stuff, which be, you know, even if, let’s say, all of AI research stopped today, and we didn’t advance for the next five years. And all the work was done on bringing these bottom gaps to catch up, right to get all the companies to catch up to where even baseline AI would be. And then to getting those to catch up to where today’s researches that would see, you know, that would actually help way more people. Right, like, with medical problems, food, problems, water, clean air, like just helping people optimize everything, which then decreases costs, which then means more people can be helped that and that’s from a research perspective, it’s not exciting, no new algorithms are being invented. Right? No new technology, but it’s just letting the world catch up. So I’m excited about that. I’m excited about using the technology that’s already there today, and helping all the millions of companies that would be so much doing so much more good for the world, if they had aI behind them. So as a researcher, that’s kind of counterintuitive. Most of my friends are, you know, trying to build Skynet, I have some that I literally, literally, that’s their purpose in life. And I’m not joking. I’m not. But I’m more excited about that. So I think the next three to five years, will hopefully see, let’s say 10 to 20% of all the companies catch up, which is like that initial move. And then once that happens, then it will be the next three to five years of bringing everybody else and then going from 10 to 20% of companies catching up to hopefully 70 to 90% of companies catching up. And that’s going to be huge for the world. And I’m excited about that. And then in the meantime, I’m sure research is also going to advance and there’s going to be some cool stuff there. But I’m more excited about these new next two phases of three, five years and then three to five years of getting the word catch up.
Alexander Ferguson 28:02
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