Speak at the right forums to establish yourself as a thought leader
Ravi Gundlapalli is the founder and CEO of MentorCloud. Ravi did his engineering from IIT Madras and went to the US and got his Ph.D. from University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He initially worked on hybrid vehicle transmissions space and have a couple of patents in his name. He later moved into supply chain management and worked in hi-tech and aerospace verticals, most recently on the 787 Dreamliner for Boeing. As a supply demand planning expert, he had the grand vision of extrapolating his supply chain domain knowledge from products to people – connecting the people with knowledge on a specific topic (Supply) with people looking for that knowledge (Demand). He began building a technology platform that effectively brings these two sides together, across geographical and organizational boundaries, and simultaneously started looking for clients to implement the platform.
Ravi says that most entrepreneurs are inherently visionary and want to do something that can create a large impact in the world. With that grand vision in mind, they many times miss the basic idea of business – to make money and to create a sustainable business. As an alumnus of three world-class academic institutions, Ravi started presenting his product idea to alumni networks, where the Supply are the Alumni (with real world experience) and the Demand are the students (seeking real world expertise to get jobs). While he was able to generate a lot of excitement for his platform, yet he found it hard to get them to pay for the platform. So, he had to step back and re-think his go-to-market approach and review his market segments carefully.
Ravi was not afraid to speak about his vision of connecting people across borders to share knowledge and support one-another. He started sharing his idea for ‘Mentoring Beyond Borders’ and how diaspora (immigrants) who he called as alumni of their home countries, can share their experiences with students and alumni back home. An analyst with Forrester Research wrote a blog in Harvard Business Review (HBR) about Ravi’s vision. US Department of State invited Ravi to deliver a plenary talk at their 2nd International Diaspora Forum in Washington DC. Forbes India did a story on Ravi’s vision. World Demographic Forum invited Ravi to Switzerland to speak about demographic shifts globally and how knowledge sharing between generations is critical and urgent, to keep organizations and countries thriving. Arab Knowledge@Wharton did a piece on him and called his platform a ‘facebook for mentorship.’ Most recently in Nov 2014, Ravi was also featured in Forbes USA. All of this happened because of Ravi openly sharing his vision with thought-leaders and visionaries.
Ravi shares that his speaking engagements led people to trust his passion for the space, which eventually earned him global clients for his MentorCloud platform. Today, when he mentors new entrepreneurs, he stresses on the criticality of speaking about one’s vision openly and frequently enough to grab attention. Entrepreneurs shouldn’t be afraid to share their big ideas especially since innovators and early adopters (first two groups in Crossing the Chasm by Geoffrey Moore) love big ideas and are more willing to experiment than the next group, which is the ‘Early Majority.’
Secrets of early sales according to Ravi is that you have to impress upon people that you are serious, trust-worthy, have a passion for the space and that you are here to make a big difference in the world. Real sales people never sell, adds Ravi. Startup CEOs #1 job therefore is not to sell the product but sell the vision and the story behind that vision. The story becomes your product, especially with the early clients. When Ravi went into meetings and shared that he has a PhD and is an IITian, people listened to him and liked him when he related his work on Dreamliner supply chain to connecting people.
Ravi’s advice to the startup community – Know your customers’ problem really very well. Ravi recollects how one of his mentors told him to always sell the problem and not the product. Clients will work with vendors who understand the client’s problems, and not with those that have a pretty looking product. So early stage wins are all about you and your understanding of the clients’ problems, which Ravi calls “Consultative selling.” Ravi also says that the secret of success as an entrepreneur is perseverance and intense belief that what you are doing is correct.
MentorCloud (http://www.mentorcloud.com/), has a small yet global team of 6, with customers in 8 countries and its user base spans over 25 countries. They have over 50,000 registered users from stellar organizations like Stanford Graduate School of Business, Landolakes IDD, Startup Delta in Netherlands, The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE) and University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa). Ravi recently shared his insights about winning early customers in this LinkedIn post:
For more information about Ravi’s company, visit http://www.mentorcloud.com