From day one, Rohit Vashisht knew he wanted to be an entrepreneur, and he didn’t waste any time getting started. Right out of college, he founded his first startup, then moved on to become a founder of a fintech startup, and continued on again as a founder of an influencer marketing platform.
Today, he’s the co-founder and CEO of WhizAI, a system designed for life sciences that uses AI and natural language processing to deliver nearly any information requested, mostly in milliseconds.
On this edition of Founders Journey, Rohit walks us through the many ups and downs of his long career, and shares some insights he gained along the way on how and when to acquire funding, building the right team, and finding that first customer.
Rohit Vashisht is the co-founder and CEO of WhizAI, the first and only purpose-built cognitive insights platform for life sciences, empowering users to get answers to their business questions by simply asking via voice, text on web and mobile.
WhizAI is trained on life sciences data [867, IQVIA, CTMS, and APLD] and business terminologies [NRx, TRx, PBMs, Plans, TAs, etc.], enabling it to answer even the most complex questions from billions of records in seconds. Fast, easy, and scalable, WhizAI is the trusted partner of choice at the top global life sciences companies. Asked. Answered. Instantly.show more
WhizAI enjoys a 100% adoption by all business users, contributes to 60% reduction in calls to IT and 50% reduction in operational overheads within first few months of implementation for enterprise pharmaceuticals.
Rohit has over 20 years of experience in enterprise software sales, product management, development, and strategy. As a tech entrepreneur, Rohit has built successful businesses and was CEO and co-founder of Sverve – an influencer marketplace that was acquired by Bloglovin and rebranded as Activate. At Sverve, he led the revenue growth and development of a self-serve platform connecting brands and influencers for marketing campaigns. At Activate, he spearheaded product, sales, and marketing strategy to grow the influencer marketing business.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!
Rohit Vashisht 0:00
I did a start up when I was 22 I really started when I was 29. I do started when I was like 35. And now I’m in my 40s and I’m doing a startup camp, right? And I’m telling you that every time is a great time to do a startup.
Alexander Ferguson 0:17
Welcome to UpTech Report. This is our Founders Journey series UpTech Report is sponsored by TeraLeap learn how to leverage the power of video at Teraleap.io. I’m joined by my guest today Rohit Vashisht, who’s based in New Jersey. He’s the Co founder and CEO at whiz.ai. Now this is actually part two of our discussion that go back and listen to part one, where we heard more about the platform itself a conversational AI platform meant to connect business users with enterprise data insights and workflows, particularly in the life science space. Welcome back. Rohit. I’m excited to hear more about your journey now.
Rohit Vashisht 0:52
How you actually didn’t set it to back.
Alexander Ferguson 0:55
So you began with was started 2017. So about four years now it’s been in and take me even before then, because you mentioned you already in this space itself. How did you get started in the technology space?
Rohit Vashisht 1:09
Yeah, I’m, I’m, I’m an engineer by education. And, you know, I started my career in software back in 2000. And those were, those are heydays of software. Right? It’s just amazing. Like how internet was coming to the fore, and the world was changing. And for me, it was from day one, I knew that I wanted to be an entrepreneur, I wanted to be, I wanted to build software products, right. So my very first job that I picked was with a startup. And that startup happened to be building business intelligence products from from the scratch. So that’s how I started. And actually, that’s what I met my current co founder, which was about 20 years ago, and we know each other very well. And we built at that time industries, first business intelligence product, where you could actually change numbers and see its impact. So back in 2000, most of those products were just read only, and you could only run reports in that product, you could actually change like, hey, if I change my pricing by 5%, what will happen to win margins, or overall business or the deal sizes and all that kind of stuff? Right? It was fascinating. Like right
Alexander Ferguson 2:12
from the beginning, you were just like in business analytics. And that’s just you live and breathe it right from the beginning.
Rohit Vashisht 2:19
Absolutely. And we build a product from from from bottoms up from the scratch. So we knew the details, the nuts and bolts of how it is done. And then I did that for about six, seven years on the on the tech side. Then I switch gears and I did sales and marketing in between I did a startup FinTech startup, but I did I did sales, enterprise sales. And that was a fascinating experience, you know, how do you sell a product like this to fortune 500 companies? Right? So yeah, so I did that. So spent about 12 years in the industry and bi industry. Then I started a company, which I ran very successfully. And that company got acquired in 2016 2017. I serve? Yes, sir. It was it’s social works work. So we basically build a marketing platform, or we can say influencer marketing platform. So that was also like, we were ahead of our times, I don’t think we will be new and we started, you know, people, we’re not even talking about influencer marketing, but that’s the kind of marketplace we built. And that did pretty well.
Alexander Ferguson 3:18
Wow. So and now serve that was your second or first or second company that you had founded.
Rohit Vashisht 3:26
So that was actually my third company that I followed. Okay, I started a company right after my college and and you know, at that time, I was in India, and we were trying to build email for me back in 1999. I was like, 22 at that time, I guess, I guess. So. Now you can, you know, my age. But it’s, it was a fascinating journey. And so, you know, that didn’t work out for for many reasons. And, you know, I came here then I started a FinTech company in 2007. Eight, the timing was super bad. And then sort of, and then now visitors for
Alexander Ferguson 3:57
Wow, obviously, over over this time, it there’s a lot of lessons learned of being able to grow a company and then even get being acquired. And I want to your next one, when it comes to let’s start at the beginning maybe to get a be started. You need money founding dollars, was sort of did you raise money? Did you bootstrap it?
Rohit Vashisht 4:18
Yeah, we raise money for so I think. So. I’m gonna say going back to your point, right. Like, there are a lot of scar marks, you know, when you do like these many startups and you learn, right, so one of the one of the questions that a lot of founders or entrepreneurs to think, what is the right time to start a business? Is it like, early in your career, you know, middle of the career later in your career, that kind of stuff, right? I did a start up when I was 22. I did a start up when I was 29. I do started when I was like 35. And now I’m in my 40s and I’m doing a startup camp. Right? And I’ll tell you that every time is a great time to do a start up. Every time I’m gonna say you know, it doesn’t matter where you are in that stage. There are some pluses. There are some minuses when I was 22. I did not have as many responsibilities, I could do whatever I could, I could work 24 hours a day, that kind of stuff. But he at the same time I lacked experience, I didn’t have any network and all that kind of stuff. Fast forward when I, you know, a few years and when I started swerve, I spent about 2013 years in the industry, I had a network, I knew what I was doing. And that’s the reason I will so you know, the very first money that came in that was Angel money, but that was all mine, my professional network. Right. So that got us started, and then obviously went on to raise VC money and all that kind of stuff. That’s a different thing. But yeah, I’m gonna see, you know, all my startups have been fortunately funded or funded by institutional institutional investors. Yeah,
Alexander Ferguson 5:44
I love that your answer, though, of every time all the time is a good time to start a startup. It’s just it’s if you have a balance of there’s pros and cons to wherever you are, whatever stage I think that’s, that can be awfully heartwarming for some folks, no matter what, if they’re early, or they’re later in their life, and they’re like, should I start one? Sure. Absolutely doesn’t matter, I’m going to see you every time is a good time to to build a company to start a company for which you also did raise rounds, what would you say is one of the biggest lessons learned when when seeking funding that you can share or even a mistake one could make to try to end and try to avoid that?
Rohit Vashisht 6:23
Yeah, I’m gonna see the look, fundraising is, is sexy fundraising is indication of success to many, and that’s a lot of founders who basically fall for it, they want to raise money. And by the way, so don’t get me wrong, you need money to build a business. And you know, you need that longevity. But obviously, you know, it, you got to be very clear, as a founder, what kind of company you’re building, right? And fundraising is that a byproduct of that, like, for me, it was always that I will, I wanted to build a product company, and I wanted to build a very large business and a growth business and to build a business like that you need funding, because the money does not come in, in the in the beginning, it’s very hard to bootstrap, some people have done it and done it beautifully, more power to them, but 99.9% of the people, they need money. And that’s, that’s the bucket that, you know, I am in, on the other hand, I’m in so you know, if you’re doing like, let’s say lifestyle business, you don’t want to meet, you don’t want to raise money, and you should not even worry about raising money, right? How to raise money, I’m going to say, you know, look, there is some people will say, there is no method to this madness, I’m actually finding some method to this madness. I think, you know, the, in my mind, I’m gonna say, to raise money, the number one thing is that you have to have a network. If you don’t have your own network, then you need to borrow that network, you need to find people who have that network who can actually get you in, you know, like, the the articles the the news about funding, this company got funding, that company got funding, it is very misleading. And, you know, I was in that bucket, like, probably 10 years ago, when I, when I started sort of especially, I thought, like, you know, everybody’s getting funded, and you know, I’m going to start a business and I will get funded. Oh, my God, I’m gonna see, you know, it took me some time to figure that out. Right? For one company that gets funding, probably there are 10, or maybe even 100, who are not getting that funding. Right. So the other side is actually Stark, right. And a lot of the founders, they are basically in that 99. And they’re frustrated, and they keep thinking like, you know, why am I not able to raise funding? It is hard. People, it is hard, right? So my number one thing, if you want to get if you want to be in that business, and you want to raise VC funding, you need to find a way to get into that network, otherwise, it is very, very hard.
Alexander Ferguson 8:44
Funding is one piece, critical phases, especially understanding, alright, am I building a product company that needs to have that money to start at the beginning. But then the next piece is, customers, clients, once you’ve built the product itself, you’ve actually mentioned earlier that you heavily had a focus on experience in enterprise and obviously, that naturally led to where you focus with, what would you say when it comes to enterprise marketing and sales and connecting, making those deals? A lesson learned of how do you make those happen? Because they’re just a different beast than than other types of sales?
Rohit Vashisht 9:18
Sure, absolutely. And, you know, before I answered that question, in my mind, and this is what I tell people, you know, there are there are three main things in a business and you’re building a business and especially your product business, right. One is product, which I think is the most easiest part of the company building process. Generally, people are smart, like, you know, we have our ideas, you know, we can put together teams we can build products, it’s hard, and don’t get me wrong. It is hard to build a good product but of the three things it’s probably the easiest the second you know, the the harder part or the second hard, hardest part. Is fundraising you know, and we all know, for obvious reasons, the hardest part in a business is traction is customers. And by the way, if you figured out the hardest part, or the two are automatically taken care of, you will get funding and your product will also also get there, because now you have customers that we put you on that path, they will give you the requirements and all that kind of stuff, right? So, customer attraction is our in, in consumer world, it could be like user attraction, user engagement, whatever that is, is the hardest part in a company, right? In company building. enterprise software sales, I mean, to see, you know, it depends who you want to sell to whether it is SMB, whether it is, you know, large enterprises, I think the game is slightly different, the tactics and the strategies slightly different, I have most of my, in my, my entrepreneurial life sold to large companies. So I understand that space decently well now. And, and it is all it is all about having the right connects early on the right connects, who can actually give you that, you know, even when I started this, I told my co founder, we not gonna write a single line of code until I find a beta customer. We did that. And that was my learning from our previous startup, you know, where we started building first, and then we started looking for clients. In this case, I wanted to do the other way around. So the idea was very clear, the problem was very clear what we were solving, we didn’t have a product. But then I looked into my network. And I found a friend of a friend who was a CEO of a company. And you know, he was running a manufacturing company, ex McKinsey very data driven person. And he’s like, yep, I love it. I want information at my fingertips. And I’m like, okay, so you’re a beta customer, we’re not going to charge you anything, all we want from you is your data, your time so that you give us feedback, and you should use our products. And he’s like, yeah, I commit to it six months, we did that. And that’s how we built our MVP that that, and they became our paying client, the first the very first paying client. And that’s when the journey starts. Right? Once you have your first customer, now you have a testimonial. Now you can actually start to pitch and you can go to like, second and third and fourth. That’s how the journey goes.
Alexander Ferguson 12:06
is having that first customer that that kicks everything else off? Absolutely. And makes it makes it happen. But but the critical step is you actually had the network, you have the connections already to reach out. What would you say to a founder who may not have connections yet in the enterprise world, but that’s where their product is focused? Should they should that be one of the first hires is a salesperson with with the network? Should they themselves just spend time building that network? What would you be recommending?
Rohit Vashisht 12:38
No, I will, I will never suggest any entrepreneur to hire a salesperson before they have customers, a few customers. This is entrepreneurs job, I will say you know, if you are the CEO, if you even if you’re not a CEO, if you’re a founder, and you could be a solo founder, you could be a co founder, one of the founder has to carry that carry the bag. Because, you know, so one of the myths, right, like, oh, let’s get a salesperson and salesperson will sell but really, um, it’s when you’re early on in your company’s journey, and you don’t have the product fully baked. You don’t know yet, like how this will come together, salespeople are ineffective. salespeople are effective, when you have figured out those things, you can actually train them, you can give them a pitch, you can tell them this is case studies, and then they will go and they will do a great job early on, you are the best salesperson, because you can sit in a meeting and you can project Oh, yeah, even though I don’t have it in my product, but I can solve it. Yes, this is all my product, we come together. I did that. Um, and so you know, like, to kid you not. I mean, it’s three years ago, we were in a very competitive sales cycle with a pharma company. And, you know, 90% of the product was not there. But we sitting in the meeting, I could project and I could think like, this is all my product can do. Excuse me, and we were building like, some of those things overnight. You know, whether those are screens or mock ups or something, but, you know, no sales rep will do that. They will not understand that. But so yeah, so you have to sell on your own now. In this case, yeah, I had some network, I went through my network, but the same thing. I mean, so if you don’t have a network operator network, that’s, that’s that’s the thing that you have. That’s hustle.
Alexander Ferguson 14:19
You know, one thing is funding another piece as you said, Actually, the hardest piece is getting traction getting customers, then then you have to actually have the team to to execute the vision or your idea, but I think you said 65 folks today the team, what we’re thinking back what was one of the earlier hires the most one of the most crucial hires that you made sure.
Rohit Vashisht 14:42
Engineers so we were building so our whole product is a product and an AI talent is very scarce and very expensive, very hard to find. And once we found our beta customer now the game was on. Now like they are giving us requirements and all we want to build this in And our initial hires are all engineers, you know, like, and obviously, I mean, so you know, it’s not like we got 60 people from day one, we started with like two people, and then four people, and then eight people. But here, it’s only when we got like two or three customers. And now we had the case studies and success stories. And we knew what our pitch was. That’s when we started hiring sales and marketing people. And sales and marketing is expensive, obviously, injuring is also very expensive. But engineering comes in a very different bucket, where you know that, you know, this is what I’m doing. This is my r&d expense. Sales and Marketing is a very, very different expense, and it can rack up very quickly. So you need to be very careful when you invest in that,
Alexander Ferguson 15:39
when it comes to sales and marketing well, and being able to invest in that, what are some lessons learned that you’ve had over the years of the balance there? that’s required?
Rohit Vashisht 15:48
Sure. Yeah. I’m It’s, uh, you know, sales, a lot of lessons. But but some of them right, like one, which I’m already talking about, the timing is very critical, very crucial. You need to know, when you’re ready to hire a salesperson, it’s very, you know, easy to say, let me get a salesperson. And certainly, we got like five customers, it does not happen. Right. So the timing is very important. Second, I’ll tell you, I think the hardest hire in any company is a sales hire. The easiest hire in any company is an engineering hire. Because for an engineer, you already know the framework like okay, I need a Java developer. And I know the questions, I know what I will grill that person on, that person writes good code, you know that this is the person and they one person gets gets on the job salespeople are totally different. It’s very, very difficult to find the right sales hire, right, or salesperson. And I can’t even tell you how many mistakes I have done in my life. And, and unfortunately, you know, that is a very expensive mistake that founders do. Like if you get a salesperson on, it will take you at least three to six months to figure out whether you hired the right person, and you lose time you lose money in that. So be very careful and tap into your network if you know like VP of sales, or people who are who have done sales before tap into them to learn like how to hire a salesperson. It’s very important.
Alexander Ferguson 17:14
For you said, If to be careful on the timing, how do you know when, when is the right time.
Rohit Vashisht 17:22
When you have successful customers want to do when you have a case study in place with a referenceable customer, and and you have proven your value proposition. Those are things because now you have the building blocks which somebody can take and run with and build on it. Without that your salespeople, your salespeople will not be effective.
Alexander Ferguson 17:42
That makes that makes a lot of sense. Obviously building a technology product that AI and you’re you’re in some ways trying to lead the charge in new new spaces. Looking back the last four years, if there was one thing you could tell yourself four years ago that you know now, what would you go back and tell yourself
Rohit Vashisht 18:05
I’m focused on our domain very early, we spent first two years building like general product, and it’s only like, once we got got our very large customer. And and we realized that, hey, look how important that domain is here. I would have done that. Probably from day one. You weren’t life science day one. No. First first year and a half. We were not actually in 2019 we completely focused on licensing. So all our attraction licenses only last 24 months. And it’s been an amazing journey since
Alexander Ferguson 18:35
Wow. Wow. So that would be the one thing it’s like, just just start from the beginning with that? Absolutely.
Rohit Vashisht 18:42
Absolutely. Absolutely. And so, you know, I would have found the customer in life sciences, you know, like, if we knew, but again, hindsight 2020 I would say you know, look, it’s building a company is a decade long or even longer process. That’s how we all learn and adapt. Yeah,
Alexander Ferguson 18:58
it takes time. Speaking of learning, are there any books, audio books, podcasts that you have found helpful and would recommend?
Rohit Vashisht 19:07
Yeah, I’m gonna say, you know, look, I’m a big fan of a16z Andreessen Horowitz their podcast series i think that’s that’s that’s done very well and topics and I’m a big fan of those. I used to listen to HB our idea cast report podcast, not so much but that used to be fun nowadays, I just picked like any topic that that is of interest to me, whether it is new technology, like AI ml what is happening their industry. I’m very excited about quantum computing, like, you know, if it comes like what what can it do to AI and how it will, you know, get to the next level so they’re interested in that. Books. I’m pretty old school. But, you know, my my best book, I think the entrepreneurial book that I read was during this work days, and I still go back to that it’s a hard thing about hard things from Ben Horowitz. I think that that’s probably founders that’s highly recommended. If you have not read that book, I would, I would sit. So I think, you know, you all will kind of relate to it and kind of take stories from it. We live those stories every day. Yeah, and zero to one is another one of my favorite books, you know, on entrepreneurship. But my all time favorite book, which I, which I’ve been reading for last 20 years and still go back to is like, what they don’t teach you at Harvard Business School. By I think more. It’s, that’s a fascinating week. So yeah, but yeah, appreciate those those ones. Worrying, I’m
Alexander Ferguson 20:33
always curious also, as, as a leader is how you spend your time, because every time is one thing we can’t get more of. So in a typical day, if you when you wake up, what what does the day look like for you?
Rohit Vashisht 20:45
chaotic, you know, I wouldn’t say you know, like, just like any other founder or CEO, you know, my calendar is generally booked from 8pm to whatever, five or 6pm solid, but, you know, off late, I started figuring out that, like, as the team grew like, they were more demands on my time, and people will just find any open slot and get it. So what I do nowadays is I set aside at least three hours for myself. So those are books on my calendar. And and I try not to basically give that time away to other people. So I’m very stingy on that, you know, where I’m spending my time. But again, I’m going to see, you know, the, the things keep changing as the business grows. And so there was a time that I was very focused on on product and product management, and I would spend a lot of my time on those activities. Nowadays, most of my times goes on sales marketing, and as analyst relationship partners, like more like commercial side of the business, and my co founder is basically taking care of the product and all that kind of stuff. But yeah, you know, for me, the best time is my those two or three hours where I can do strategic thinking, I can actually catch up on things, you know, when I’m there, I’m behind, it’s very important, like, as the company grows as, as, as your business kind of find its feet, it’s very important, that person at the top has to have that kind of vision, so that you know, you can keep the ship moving in the right direction.
Alexander Ferguson 22:07
The last question for you looking forward, future tech predictions and in this space in the near term, next year, too, and long term, 510 years, what? What can you share?
Rohit Vashisht 22:20
I think enterprise will look very different in next 10 years. You know, the AI thing has just started, what we are doing what we call it like Intelligent Automation. And we talked about in the previous podcast, right? How we are bringing that we are eliminating that manual process and higher knowledge work and a process and AI is doing it, the kind of agility it has bring to the business, the cost savings, it has been to the businesses unparalleled. So it’s only going to accelerate, I think, from my vantage point, the industry that we sit in business intelligence industry, it is like half a trillion dollar industry. We think in next five years, it’s going to completely disrupt, you know, so it’s a big, big opportunity. And I won’t be surprised. I mean, so you know, ai in my mind is just like internet or software that touched everything. It’s going to touch everything, and it is already touching everything. So the future of work and future of enterprises. Very, very different. It’s fast. It’s automated. It’s a job. That’s how I think about it. I love it.
Alexander Ferguson 23:17
I love it. Well, thank you so much for sharing your insight and the journey that you’ve been on. For those that want to learn more, go back and listen to Part one where we were able to dive a little bit deeper into the platform itself. And you can also go to whiz.ai to learn more about their platform. Thanks again for your time, Rohit. It’s great to have you on.
Rohit Vashisht 23:35
Thanks for having me. Thank you.
Alexander Ferguson 23:37
Absolutely. We’ll see you guys on the next episode of UpTech Report. That concludes the audio version of this episode. To see the original and more visit our UpTech Report YouTube channel. If you know a tech company, we should interview you can nominate them at Uptechreport.com. Or if you just prefer to listen, make sure you’re subscribed to this series on Apple podcasts, Spotify or your favorite podcasting app.