Be transparent with your team – people don’t like the thought that they are being patronized or lied to
Vinod Muthukrishnan traveled across the country as the son of an Army officer with frequent transfers. Not only did he do awesome adventures but also got a chance to explore India's rich diversity. After completing his 10+2, Vinod joined Merchant Navy and also got his diploma in Nautical Sciences from BITS Pilani via correspondence course while sailing around the world.
After his stint with Merchant Navy, Vinod worked with MarketSimplified before deciding to turn an entrepreneur. Vinod founded CloudCherry - a startup that promises to make customer experience management and feedback super cool and easy.
We spoke with Vinod about his experiences from the oceans, entrepreneurial life, the challenges he faced while starting up and learnings from the journey so far. If you are an entrepreneur or aspiring to be one, you can't afford to miss this interview.
Vinod Muthukrishnan - CEO &Co-Founder CloudCherry
CE: You were a part of Merchant Navy. How was your experience working as a Navigation Officer.
Vinod: The Merchant Navy was an incredible growing experience. From the comforts of home to the rugged life on a ship at the age of 18 was an eye opener to say the least ! I had the privilege of visiting ports in more than 4 dozen countries across my 9 year career. The stand out memories I will take from my time at sea would be: 1. The absolutely stunning beauty of nature that I had the privilege to witness 2. First hand encounters with exactly how rough nature can get at times 3. The experience of working with multinational crews 4. The fact that small, motivated, dedicated and trained teams can achieve so much more than their sum of parts.
CE: How did CloudCherry happen? What were the major technical challenges you faced while setting up CloudCherry?
Vinod: Cloudcherry was the result of destiny bringing together all the pieces of the puzzle together. I was planning to quit my previous start up to study and reached out to my cousin Prof. Sriram (who was part of the founding team at Great Lakes Institute of Management) for his advise. At the same time, he and a couple of the other members of the Great Lakes ‘Dream Team’ were planning to fund an idea which later shaped into Cloudcherry. As I met Dr. Bala, Mr. Hari and Vijay (who is our Chief Evangelist now), we found great resonance of thought on how technology could help brands drive profitability by engaging with their customers better. Like all good ideas, this one evolved too, but the underlying need to help brands track-measure-improve customer delight across all touch points remains core to what we do. The Technical challenge really was to architect a platform that was truly open, scalable and had world class UX. This is where my Co-Founder and Chief Tech Architect Nagendra came in. I always say that he is the “best Indian technologist nobody knows about” and he has architected what we are truly proud of as a tech platform.
CE: How big is CloudCherry team at present? How did the team manage to cope us with customer support and queries?
Vinod: We have more than 30 people now and are in rapid expansion mode. We handle support by trying to ensure there is no need for support – by maintaining a product that isn’t buggy, by creating self help guides that avoid the need for support and with a product UX that lends itself to easy adoption. As a pioneer of customer delight, we see customer support as a ‘Marketing function’ and not a support one. So, when a support ticket does come in, our philosophy is that developers should handle tech queries since it is their baby and they are most proud of it while all other queries are handled by marketing. We believe that any interaction with a customer is an opportunity to delight them.
We see customer support as a ‘Marketing function’ and not a support one
CE: How was your experience of striking your first big deal? Sales of which products at CloudCherry are the highest?
Vinod: Without getting into names, our first deal came about quite by accident but wrapping up our first major client felt like the best possible validation of close to a year’s hard work. Product companies have a critical milestone called ‘Product-market fit’ and it took us a few more deals to confidently claim that milestone. We are a CEM platform, which means the company and the product are one and the same. We don’t have multiple product lines at this time.
CE: What marketing strategy are you employing to attract more customers to CloudCherry.
Vinod: Customer delight is the new marketing. Our customers refer a significant number of inbound leads for us. That apart, we have a marketing program that includes a mix of inbound and outbound marketing using digital and non-digital channels. Content is a massive part of our strategy. Our approach to outbound marketing highly personalized outreach – we don’t believe in mass mailers.
CE: How is CloudCherry different from its competitors?
Vinod: For starters, in Asia we are the only truly Omni channel, real time, end to end Customer Experience Management platform. There isn’t another player with our level of product detail, sophistication, ease of use or tech openness or scalability. Our competitive advantage lies in a very easy to adopt billing model, a truly 10x product in terms of UX and level of detail, an open platform that integrates to deliver exponential value and finally culture – a truly strategic advantage for us.
CE: How do you go about hiring at CloudCherry? What promising skills do you look for in a candidate applying to your company?
Vinod: We look for Curiosity, Cultural fitment, Commitment, Curve (learning) and character. Core technical / domain skill is the fundamental requirement of course. For many roles we are not hung up on prior experience – we like fresh engineering graduates. For specialist roles of course we look for prior experience.
CE: How would you describe your entrepreneurship journey so far? What ups and downs have you faced?
Vinod: People say entrepreneurship is a lonely journey – in my case I have shared the stress, the uncertainty and the struggles openly with my team and they have supported me. Transparency ensures everyone is motivated by the right reasons. In our bootstrapped phase, we had a couple of occasions when we couldn’t pay salaries on time and without the team’s support, I couldn’t have overcome that tough period. For a long time into their existence, startups face existential questions and that’s pretty unnerving – unlike large companies where you never really question whether you will be in business next quarter or not.
CE: Where do you see this company 5 years down the line? What are your ideas about the ideal work culture, workspace and hierarchy in the company?
Vinod: We see ourselves as leaders in the Customer Experience Management space with a global footprint. I mentioned before that Culture is a strategic competitive advantage. It is not just a contributor but THE dominant contributor to creating a sustainable competitive advantage for your company. A culture that encourages risk taking, innovation, freedom and impactful work will deliver superior results over time. We believe in zero hierarchy – which does not mean lack of hierarchy because someone does make more money than you ? It means that expressing ideas / opinions / the right to contradict is everyone’s day one right. Hierarchy in idea sharing is the number one reason why great ideas get stifled in big companies.
CE: Any advice you would like to give about leadership to entrepreneurs who are just about to start?
- Treat culture creation as your number one priority.
- Be transparent with your team – people don’t like the thought that they are being patronized or lied to.
- Set the vision of the company, the belief statement on why you exist and rallythe team from day one around that.