October 9, 2019
Joining us on the Marketing Mix Podcast is Dan Reich, CEO & Co-Founder at Troops.ai. Dan discusses the power of chatbots, the ways in which instant messaging is reshaping the way businesses communicate internally, and how Troops.ai is building upon platforms like Slack to improve businesses’ CRM, sales pipelines and revenue. In telling the story of his entrepreneurial journey, Dan discusses the development of his most successful ventures, why he decided to fire himself from his last company, and the process of building new categories of software that pave the way for new trends and solutions to evolve.
Jeff Ragovin: You've got your hands in so many different businesses. What’s going on with Troops.ai and your other ventures?
Dan Reich: Right now, I'm working full time on a company called Troops.ai. At Troops.ai we’re trying to make it easy for customer-facing teams to reach their potential. The way we think about doing that is by bringing mission-critical information from your most important business systems like Salesforce, email or calendar and making them available, actionable, and intelligent in the medium and place where people are increasingly spending all of their time - which is Slack. In our mind, Slack, and products like it, are becoming the new operating systems for teams. The way work is happening is changing and we’re building a new category of software that makes it easier for people to do their jobs and increase revenue.
Jeff Ragovin: Can you tell us about how TULA came to fruition and your role in the company now?
Dan Reich: I became close with someone who started the beauty company Bobby Brown Cosmetics and we ultimately realized we had an opportunity to launch our own health and beauty brand with QVC, a motivated retailer that happened to be the third largest in the world and that was really the beginning of TULA. We quickly knew that neither one of us would have the right DNA to contemplate what products we would make so we got connected with who is now our other Co-Founder, Dr. Roshini Raj, who’s the medical editor for Health Magazine, and together we came up with the concept of TULA and probiotic skincare.
I started working fulltime as TULA’s CEO getting the company off the ground and it was going really well. But one day I was in a product development meeting with about 10 lab samples on the table and we were trying to figure out what fragrance and ingredients we wanted to put in the next product. At that point I knew that the business was doing really well, but there were probably other people out there better than me that could do this full time, so that’s when I realized I needed and wanted to take a step back to my roots, which is technology, and so we hired a woman to come and be our COO, and she did such an amazing job and so I fired myself and she took the place of CEO. I then went on and founded Troops.ai and now both companies are in the same office still and so it makes for a very fun and interesting office and work environment.
Jeff Ragovin: Are you a born entrepreneur?
Dan Reich: I grew up in a household where I watched my Father turn flat land into buildings because he was a real estate developer. He would turn nothing into something. I remember being in high school and eBay really became a thing. So I would buy bouncy balls wholesale and sell them out of my locker and made some money. That to me was really compelling, and from there I started a legitimate company and we built a marketplace that let people buy wholesale fashion. Somebody asked me yesterday how many companies I’d started and I think this is number 10. More have failed than have worked by far, but every failure is a lesson. For me, it’s always been an innate sense of curiosity that's driven my entrepreneurship.
Jeff Ragovin: Let’s talk about Troops.ai Where did the idea come from and who uses it?
Dan Reich: The idea came from a number of places, most recently Buddy Media and Salesforce. You understand how important it is to manage information on your customers, revenue and pipeline and in general we know that CRM systems can be pretty painful to use, and that’s a problem because if you dont know whats going on with your customers, revenue or pipeline, then you can't make decisions, you can't work with budget correctly or hire accordingly, and the whole business can become pretty tense pretty quickly. Thinking back to the Buddy Media and Salesforce days, post-acquisition, my manager came to me and said, “Dan, if your team doesn't update Salesforce by 5 o’clock every Tuesday they are fired”, and on the one hand it was insane, but on the other it made a ton of sense and was completely logical.
And so, I would send my team out for customer meetings and I’d see it on their calendar. After the meetings, I’d text them and ask how it went and ask for the next steps, the decision, the budget, the compelling events etc. and so you’d have this whole conversation and you'd get back to the office and they’d have to go a duplicate all that information again. Why is it that we spend over a third of our lives, if not more, at work and yet doing this function is so hard? The beginning of Troops.ai was oriented around this idea back in 2015. At the time, 6 of the top 10 apps in the world were messaging apps and so it seemed incredibly obvious to us that consumer behavior would invade the work world in a way that we’ve never seen before. So the question was simple, what if you could chat with your CRM? What if interacting with Salesforce was as easy as texting your buddy, and that was the question that really sent us on this journey which is now Troops.ai.
Jeff Ragovin: I saw that between 80 to 85% of businesses will be deploying chatbots by next year. Do you think that prediction is true?
Dan Reich: I think what we’ll see is different forms and flavors of chatbots. I don’t think a chatbot is just one, single encompassing product. For us, it feels more like an app in a messaging environment. Whereas traditionally people tend to think of chatbots as this back and forth text messaging conversation, what’s happening in China and WeChat is what the future of chatbots is all about. It’s really about integrating the whole digital ecosystem in a messaging medium. That’s how we think about the world where a messaging medium is quickly becoming the place where people spend most time. I just saw Instagram launched the new companion app to their native Instagram app, Threads, that's predicated on messaging. I think messaging is the most ubiquitous behavior digitally speaking and so whether you call it intelligent assistance or a chatbot, the medium of messaging is only going to become more pervasive and meaningful in years to come.
Jeff Ragovin: Chatbots are already starting to shape the future of brand to consumer communications. Is there anything you can predict for the future in terms of AI driven chatbots?
Dan Reich: We always thought about chatbots as serving the B2C cases. I think what’s going to happen is that chatbots are going to evolve into new use-cases where chatbots and intelligence assistance will aid with internal services. There is absolutely no reason I should have 50 different tabs open when I could have one flow at work at one place with an interface interaction that helps me do my job across many of these functions, and so I think we are going to see chatbots more in enterprise and become more pervasive in e-commerce and the B2C model.
Jeff Ragovin: How long did it take you to build Troops.ai?
Dan Reich: The company was started in 2015, but really we started building on top of Slack towards the end of 2016. We did that because a few things happened at once. We were building this messaging concept and at the same time, Slack announced a dedicated fund, a developer platform and their growth rate which was insane. It all reminded me of the Buddy Media story about building a really amazing business on top of one of the fastest growing ecosystems on earth. What was happening with Slack reminded me a lot of what we did at Buddy Media, but it wasn't focused on the consumer, rather it was focused on the business and enterprise. To go in early and build on top of that ecosystem, although risky, was really exciting. We started building end of 2016 and only actually this past year did we really begin to build our go-to-market team and we’re still in the process of building that up.
Jeff Ragovin: One of Troops.ai’s biggest customers right now is WeWork. Can you tell us more about your partnership?
Dan Reich: WeWork is a very big global company, and to manage that scale is challenging. The way they thought about doing it, as do many companies, was to have Salesforce manage their business, and to have Slack help them actually get work done. The problem is that the two are actually completely disconnected, and as a result, are losing insights into deals that they are closing or deals that are coming down the pipeline.
We are doing a lot for WeWork but a simple example is this - whenever a salesperson closes a deal, Troops.ai notifies the whole team and also specific people on the team, and that’s important because once a deal is closed we alert the team in Slack and then the real work begins. Troops.ai notifies the team that the deal is closed, we then take the whole process through end to end. We help notify the other team members of all of the events happening on this deal, how its progressing through the pipeline ensuring that all activities are updated through Salesforce and being shared back in Slack with the appropriate people. That’s how they are able to successfully acquire new customers and put them into offices.
Jeff Ragovin: Thank you for joining the Marketing Mix Podcast.
Please note, the above has been paraphrased for editorial purposes