Usually, developing a product is an additive process. You begin with a core idea and then add new features with each subsequent version release. But there are those unusual circumstances where the product has become a monster of unwanted functionality, and your development job is reductive—you begin with something that’s been overused and eliminate its unnecessary elements.
This is the situation Hetal Pandya found herself in when she founded Edison. The problem she was trying to solve? Email. What was once an excited new mode of communication has become a cumbersome burden to many.
In this edition of UpTech Report, Hetal talks about her experience of taking a preexisting service and turning it into something less.
More information: https://www.edison.tech/
Hetal Pandya is a mobile entrepreneur with more than 20 years of experience building mobile products for enterprise and consumer audiences. She has previously led teams at Nuance Communications, Microsoft, TellMe Networks, and Nortel Networks.
Edison Software is transforming the way people communicate with innovative, AI-driven products, including its flagship Edison Mail application for iOS, Android and Mac, new OnMail email service, Edison Trends e-commerce research and Edison API. Edison Software’s online data management privacy practices are TRUSTe certified, GDPR and Privacy Shield compliant. Edison is headquartered in San Jose, California.
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!
Hetal Pandya 0:00
I think having the right team internally is a secret that not very many people talk about.
Alexander Ferguson 0:13
Hetal, I’m excited to continue our conversation now hearing a bit more about your journey. As a tech leader, I’m sure there’s there’s a lot of lessons learned for you. Tell me though, how did you get to where you are today? What What’s your story?
Hetal Pandya 0:28
I have an unusual story where my parents were tech entrepreneurs. My mom is a computer scientist, my dad has been a quintessential businessman. And I had my first entrepreneur experience in sixth grade right from my home dining table. And that was where my parents started their company, when when I was in sixth grade. And I learned so much by just living with the hard work, the perseverance, the problem solving, the ability and the grit to sort of wake up every morning and be still enthusiastic about all the problems that are on your plate, and to keep, you know, scratching away at the problem and figuring it out. I think that’s the DNA. That’s the DNA of like, most successful, you know, most successful entrepreneurial mindset. It’s not about, it’s not about people who are just want to make money. It’s the mindset of being entrepreneurial, the mindset of saying, I’m going to fix something, I’m going to figure out this problem. That’s the mindset of most successful entrepreneurs,
Alexander Ferguson 1:47
what did it take to say, Alright, I’m gonna, I’m gonna start, I’m gonna find my own business and get that off the ground, what was it like to get funding and get it started? So,
Hetal Pandya 1:58
the number one thing about building a business is to find the right set of co founder, and I can tell you that my co founder, Michael burner, and I, both of us, he’s the CEO, and he had built a business before, so he knew the sort of the how to use the ropes of, of how to go about pitching the business, and how to get the funding from the company, for the company, from investors, and I’ve learned a lot from him on how this is done, I have to tell you my experience as an entrepreneur, in a country where there were no investors, it was a time in the 80s, when there was nothing, I didn’t even know what a VC was at that time. And it was practically a different kind of entrepreneurship. The entrepreneurship that we’re talking about, in the US where we tried to raise funds, and then we build the business is a is a very different kind of entrepreneurship. But you will be very impressed that it doesn’t happen in many third world countries. And so the beauty of me able to learn that, with Michael was is was actually quite eye opening. And also just the the ability to explain our story, the ability to give the perspective of what we think we want to solve, because remember, we weren’t talking about building some, some crazy robot that changes how you do things and changing your productivity in your house, we were talking about changing products and services that people already use all the time. It is not the most sexy story in a way. But it is the most important in my eyes, the most important place where we can actually help consumers. And so taking that and dovetailing it into a exciting business opportunity. For you know, investors to be interested in was a really hard thing to do. And learning that is amazing. So
Alexander Ferguson 4:14
getting the initial story there and being able to get the funding. That’s one piece but then to build up the MVP get the first few customers on board that’s a whole nother piece. What can you share as far as tactics that you found worked just in the initial stages to get the the first couple of customers both on the on the consumer side of the product, as well as your the trend side, the b2b side? How do you get those first couple of customers?
Hetal Pandya 4:39
I think having the right team internally is a secret that not very many people talk about. We have always looked for as a team. We’ve always looked for people that we would like to work with and again that that ability that grit, the ability to solve problems, we never look Got a some people that we join the early days that people that joined our team, we’re all kind of mini entrepreneurial to kind of met. I mean, that’s, that’s what you’re looking for, you’re looking for people who will say I am, I am scrappy I am, I’m hardworking, I will learn new things, I am not coming with some kind of like I know how to do things chip on my shoulder, and ready to learn. I’m rolling up my sleeves. That’s our team. And that team actually changes everything we didn’t. We weren’t email experts when we started. But we saw that people when we built the first product, which was an AI product, helping people to do tiny, repetitive tasks. So that’s how we started, we said that consumers are doing repetative tasks all the time, that’s silly, we should be able to apply AI to it and fix it. So we built an app was an assistant was a pure assistant, we decided that that app isn’t great, but we got a lot of loyal users. And but then we found out people don’t want to open one more app to then be able to do one more thing. So we had to go pick something that already exist in the sort of the everyday use of a consumer and be able to the bank from their help them. And so we picked email. From that point onward, we built the team that could understand the applied AI technologies. On top of the email problem statement, we got the the understood how the email UX works and how what is broken, do we need to change a brand new email UX, or is there some other things that need to be that’s how we came up with the whole idea that people just don’t want that my email, it’s kind of the funny thing where you go, I’m building an email product, what I’m going to fix something where people just don’t get that many emails, which is actually a great thing to do. And the more and more successful products that you hear about, like Instagram and others where they took away features before they released the final product, which is great, I think you understand the value of simplicity. And that actually drives into even our all male product, the simplicity of that web product that we just launched, is so inspiring that people have had are actually just waiting for all the rest of the features of the products to come out for another just in public beta. But the admiration and love are getting for analysis, unbelievable. So that tells you simplicity wins, you know,
Alexander Ferguson 7:30
the two big takeaways from it one is is your when you develop an initial product, be careful, you’re not creating something that solves a problem, but then they have to go somewhere to do it is really finding a place that they’re already going in and doing something and building a way to do that faster, easier, simpler. And then when you’re working on it, make sure you’re simplifying, reducing versus adding more complicating it to very, very powerful ideas. Thank you. This this team, obviously a powerful point of developing the right team for you to grow and maybe the initial stages, a certain kind of team. And then once you narrow down and knowing where you want to go getting more team members on that. What’s your team like today? How many folks do you have?
Hetal Pandya 8:10
We have about 100 people 100 Plus, and our team has been growing very, very carefully. So as a startup, you would think, you know, go out, you get the funding, you show hiring. It’s not that way, actually, our team stayed at like, mid 40s For a long time. And then when we built the research side of the product of the business, we build out the rest of the team, which is we needed the b2b sales people, we needed the data scientists and the data analysts. And that’s when we built the MVP for that area. Because every every time we have built something that we can produce and provide to a consumer or a business, we’ve always started small. We’ve always tested the market to say, is this something viable? Is this something we can provide to a person that would pay us for it or find value in it? And that’s the important part of any MVP is you build something and you find out if people if somebody and I forget who said this, but there’s this lecture and the blogger, he says, if somebody will pay you $1 for that idea, you’ve got something there. That’s when you go execute that idea and go build the product out. And that’s what we are. We are very, very careful in how we spend our money and how we spend our funds, how we grow our teams. But you know, to your point, the first product, listening to customers, our first first few hires were very interesting. From our experience from the past. We didn’t hire just engineers, our first set of team players were also customer service people, even though we didn’t even have that many customers. We have hired a customer service person to actually help us message, create the messaging around the product, such a way that we are able to, you know, talk to the consumers who are going to use our products. We didn’t want our engineering team to talk, we wanted our customer support team. So our customer support team, actually initial days helped us create the information that was being provided to the customers.
Alexander Ferguson 10:28
And nice feedback loop there that I can manage nice feedback
Hetal Pandya 10:31
loop, because then when they started talking to customers, they knew what they were talking about, they weren’t just brought on because all of a sudden, we have a few 100,000 customers, they were brought on much earlier. So they’re part of the team. And that makes them feel ownership for it. And that ability to help the customers was so much I mean, in fact, I think our apps are like five star apps in both app stores. Every other review in that app store talks about how good customer support is. But again, large companies cannot provide this kind of customer support. So these are the areas that we kind of thought through to say how do we make our MVP successful to then be able to take this product further?
Alexander Ferguson 11:15
I find it interesting your your business model, because you’re both b2c as well as b2b. How do you how do you manage that? Both marketing ability and keeping the conversations and the communications effective in both spaces?
Hetal Pandya 11:32
Um, inherently, many people ask us this question, I do a lot of interviews for even employee new employees coming on board. And they asked us this question. Are we a research company? Or are we a consumer company? Is the consumer company built for the research side? Or is the research side built for the consumer side? And I think we are actually looking at the company’s both industries at the same time, and we are changing revolutionising how both industries have operated over hundreds of years. About money. No, but the research side has been hundreds of years. And so I talked a lot about the email side, but what about the research side, and then there’s a very nice dovetail of why our consumers should understand why researchers privacy focused and a better way to use a product that’s free. And our research side should understand why getting this data from a source or getting the research from a source that understands and has a pact of privacy with that source. So the customers that we work with, they’re large fortune 50 customers, they’re really really large companies. The reason they work with something, somebody’s not like Edison software, that’s not a like, you know, something not like one of those large research companies that we all know of, is because they believe that we actually have a moral obligation, we are conscious of our pact with our consumers. And that’s why our product, and then the speed, we can actually do a lot of things at the speed that they require. So let’s say they say tomorrow, can you give us a red shirt instead of a blue shirt, and let’s say we were only capturing shirts before that is really easy for our AI to then go and train it to go and do the red shirts to blue shirts, and then break out red shirts to blue shirts and then be able to provide that it is not been that easy for these customers to get that kind of see how this whole business is actually yes, we are marketing to different businesses. But the but at that at a fabric level, the two businesses are really connected together.
Alexander Ferguson 13:56
It really stood out there your your statement of of those those 1415 it stands out to them your mission statement effectively or to the consumers of how you’re approaching this could already attract them. And of course, then the speed of execution of that relationship you have an option you have with the consumers allows them faster access to the data and changing it all while being very privacy oriented. It’s an interesting perspective take on that. Not everybody
Hetal Pandya 14:23
who uses right I was not everybody who uses my product on the consumer side agrees to using their data for the research side and we’re okay with that. Just like I said, it’s like a complete like less than sometimes it’s less than 50%. And it’s okay because remember statistics, when you are doing aggregate research, the statistics part of it does not require 100% In the denominator, it can be much less than 100%. Like if you go look at some of the research graphs that you looked at, like statistical green research graphs I talked about who’s gonna vote for somebody If you look at how many people like the the cohort that they asked the question to, is less than a few 1000. It’s in the hundreds sometimes. And so that’s all you really need to say the trend of blue shirt versus red shirts. And checking with only a few 1000 people to see if they like blue shirts or sweatshirts is enough of a trend for a consumer company that building red shirt versus blue shirts. Which one are they going to build more next year? Right? That’s the type of stuff is enough that that’s the privacy focus research that we’re talking about.
Alexander Ferguson 15:34
Two last quick questions for you one, is there any books or audiobooks or podcasts or journals or places you’ve been reading and found interesting that you could share?
Hetal Pandya 15:43
You know, my favorite is, I have two radio shows. I’m a big NPR listener. And I have two favorite shows. One is marketplace and I love Kyra stall. And the second one is Kerri gross. And I love because she keeps me connected to the real world. And I love her fresh air show. So those are my two favorite things that I read. Listen to sorry. And on the reading side, I just I just read so much. So much stuff at work, that after some time, I think I’m I’m kind of done with me. But there are days when I feel I should pick up a book, I have done a couple audiobooks when I’m traveling, but now I don’t travel anymore. And for work or any of it. So I have kind of let that part go a little bit. But we’ll come back. So yeah, those are my two best podcasts radio shows that I listen to, especially when I’m walking.
Alexander Ferguson 16:42
Last question for you. What kind of technology innovations do you predict we will see in the near term, the next year or so. And long term 510 years.
Hetal Pandya 16:52
I think near term we’re going to start seeing some really interesting automation on on the roads. Driver less stuff. It’s a near term thing driver, less deliveries driver less stuff, it’s going to be very, very interesting. And it’s going to be near term I already know in Arizona that they’re having a pilot go on where they’re driverless taxis. I just can’t believe I just I just I’m waiting for a video. My brother is in Phoenix. I
told him I want a video now. That’s really cool. And that and it’s coming. I think we think it’s far away. But it’s not that far away.
And for the for the long term, I think we’re going to have a very interesting virtual AI experience blended into our entertainment, gaming. That’s already there. I’m saying that will happen in our travel in our so let’s say I’m about to take a trip to Patagonia. I might almost do this trip virtually first, and then go do it physically to get the most out of it. But that’s like my very, very long term. Like you might almost think of a lot of things that will happen in like aI virtually in your house where you’re like just kind of like I’m gonna check this out. I’ll check that out before I go physically do it. I think that’s going to be set up this long term thing that’s going to happen.
Alexander Ferguson 18:32
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