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Craig Major

The Startup Coach

Discussing starting a  chatbot based business with Akshay Konjier cofounder of Scout AI on this episode of the Startup Talk Podcast Toronto’s Startup Podcast Toronto’s Startup Podcast with The Startup Coach

Scout AI is building Chatbots to help the recruitment process get better applicants by using technology to enhance the candidate experience

About Akshay Konjier

Akshay is a co-founder of Scout A.I. which is a startup based in Toronto which specializes in assessing job candidates and enhancing the candidate experience through technology.

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Here is the transcript of the interview with Akshay Konjier of Scout AI

Direct from the Six, world renowned Canada’s largest city with Canada’s biggest thinkers, visionaries, and hustlers, this is Startup Talk featuring the founders, funders, innovators, and community leaders who’ve led Canada’s startup ecosystem right here in Toronto. You’ll hear the challenges, the failures, the successes. Toronto Startup podcast gives you the full story direct from the entrepreneurs and influencers who’ve made a difference. Now the host of Startup Talk, the founder of TorontoStarts the Startup Coach.

Startup Coach:

Welcome back to the Startup Talk. I’m the Startup Coach, founder of TorontoStarts. And with me today is Akshay Konjier, welcome Akshay.

Akshay Konjier:

Hey, how’s it going, Craig?

Startup Coach:

It’s going great. You’re the co-founder of Scout A.I. Tell me about Scout A.I.

Akshay Konjier:

Yeah. So, what we’re trying to do is we’re doing chatbots to help the recruitment process. So essentially we found when we were going through the recruitment process ourselves, it was kind of a cold process. So we started to do chatbots to make it a little bit more human like. We can ask questions that are a little more tailored to the candidates and it allows the candidates to go through a lot more fun experience, improving the candidate experience, improving the marketing for the company.

Akshay Konjier:

It also, from the company’s perspective, it helps them really filter on more aspects than just say normal knockout questions such as, are you eligible to work in Canada? Because you can definitely go down a tree of questions rather just a linear set of questions that we typically get asked, so that’s what we’re doing. We’re coming out with a chatbot technology to really help out recruitment

Startup Coach:

I’ll ask a couple of quick questions on that now, do they find that it speeds up or less drop-off on the application process?

Akshay Konjier:

Yeah. So you would have less drop-off. We found that previously, obviously the latest iteration that we’re working on, we haven’t put it out yet, but the previous iterations we’ve had, we found that the drop-off is actually pretty low. Because people, as long as they feel engaged, and it’s different, typically people when they’re applying for jobs online, they’re not just doing like a single job, it’s like a long tedious process. So if they reach something that’s a little bit different that isn’t the typical form that you fill out or the process where you upload your resume and then they basically ask you to retype in your entire resume …

Startup Coach:

Very frustrating and find the right keywords.

Akshay Konjier:

Yeah, exactly. So if they find something that’s a little bit different, a little bit innovative, they actually tend to do it. Because it tells you something about the company and it’s just refreshing change. Because people who are applying for jobs, especially when they’re fresh out of school, they may apply for a hundred, 200 jobs. It’s not unusual for that to happen. So trying to stand out and give them something a little bit different, it really does resonate with candidates.

Startup Coach:

So before we get into Scout A.I. and your entrepreneurial journey, what were you like growing up? Were you studious? Were you a handful for your parents? Were you into sports and music?

Akshay Konjier:

I mean, none of the above, I think, I wasn’t very studious. I was into tech. I was definitely into tech, but I never was super studious. I think I just probably just got by, school was not super difficult till it is in university. I was into sports, not playing, but mostly watching. I loved baseball when I was younger. But the only thing like my parents growing up, they basically put me in everything. It’s the classic, we’ll try everything and nothing really stuck too much outside. I stuck with swimming and I … tech really stuck once they first bought me the first computer, that Pentium one.

Akshay Konjier:

I can actually name off probably most of the specs on that computer. It was three grand, which is absurd for a computer to think about that. My parents had no money and they dropped three grand on a computer for me. But that stuck. So that kind of snowballed into like, I really liked messing around with computers. I really liked building them. I liked screwing them up. I remember I one time, I ended up wiping my sister’s entire MP3 collection.

Startup Coach:

I’m sure she appreciated that.

Akshay Konjier:

Yeah. I still … Plenty of nerds out there. I was partitioning a hard drive when I did that and I didn’t realize what I was doing.

Startup Coach:

fdisk and away we go.

Akshay Konjier:

I wiped the whole hard drive and so all her MP3s were gone, which in today’s Spotify world is not a big deal, but back then in the Napster world, where you spent 30 minutes to download a song, was a huge deal. That was the day my sister and I got different computers.

Startup Coach:

Don’t run fdisk if you don’t know what you’re doing.

Akshay Konjier:

Yeah. So I learned. That’s how you learn, right? You screw up then … But when it was my own computer, I screwed up a lot. Like there was multiple screw ups after that, but it was my own computer, so I just own the screw up and kind of go with it. But when it’s my sister’s MP3, that’s when I felt it. Yeah, I know I’m not super studious, but tech always kind of like resonated with me and stuck with me.

Startup Coach:

What did you want to do when you grow up? Did you always want to be an entrepreneur?

Akshay Konjier:

Nope, not at all. I mean, I wish I had some great answer that I was, when I was 14, I was like, “I really want to do this when I grow up.” I didn’t know what I was going to do. I knew that I really liked tech. It was always something that I was strong in. My highest marks were always in tech programming and things like that when I was in high school. So I knew I was going to go into tech. But the funny thing was I didn’t actually fit well with the personalities in tech when I was younger. So I ended up deciding to go into business last minute when I was in university. So I ended up going to Laurea and just getting accepted to regular business, because I just felt like I didn’t really fit well with the tech crowd. Then when I got there, I decided to actually switch into double degree and go back and do tech and business.

Startup Coach:

So what is tech in university?

Akshay Konjier:

So I did computer science and business. So I was supposed to go into computer science for as long as I could. Then I, just like in the last two, three months before, I had to decide where to go to university. I just felt like I really enjoyed the subject, but I didn’t enjoy … I didn’t really have friends in computer science class. All my friends were in other classes and it just felt like, there’s obviously a personality in computer science, especially back then. So it didn’t resonate with me. So I decided to go into business, which really shocked my parents.

Akshay Konjier:

I was one of those kids who just went online and accepted where I wanted to go and then after the fact, told my parents where I was going. So they were very surprised that I was going into business. But when I got into business, I really enjoyed it. But I missed tech. So I ended up switching back into doing both. So I did two degrees in five years.

Startup Coach:

Yeah. I did the tech tour long before you. My first computer was a VIC-20.

Akshay Konjier:

It was what?

Startup Coach:

A VIC-20.

Akshay Konjier:

I have no idea. You’re going to take everybody down memory lane computer lesson.

Startup Coach:

And if you wanted anything to run, you pretty much had to program it yourself and then save what you coded onto a tape player, an audio cassette player so that you wouldn’t lose it for next time. Yeah. And I remember my first, the Pentium, geez. That was so many generations before.

Akshay Konjier:

So I had a computer before that. That wasn’t … My parents had one that they’d brought from like Dubai where we’d come from. I don’t remember anything about that computer because I was really young. All I remember was there was no gooey, it was green, the text was all green, it had a five and a half inch floppy. My first computer, the Pentium, I’m talking about, had a three and a half inch floppy CD drive.

Startup Coach:

If you want to look up something funny, Google orange green Compaq, Compaq being C-O-M-P-A-Q, luggable.

Akshay Konjier:

Luggable?

Startup Coach:

Luggable.

Akshay Konjier:

What is that?

Startup Coach:

Trust me, you look at it, you’ll laugh your head off. That was my first portable computer.

Akshay Konjier:

It’s portable. I’m putting my hands up in air quotes.

Startup Coach:

Yeah, you’ll have to take a look, that doesn’t translate on the podcast. But, so you went into business and then switched to tech. So you’re at Laurier, you graduate. What happens?

Akshay Konjier:

It’s funny you think like, you look back to it, I was just like, I want a job. That was it.

Startup Coach:

That’s normal.

Akshay Konjier:

It wasn’t, I remember I left, I finished Laurier, I finished computer science and business and then I started to … I went to India for I think five weeks or something because I thought, “Oh, what am I ever going to get a chance to travel this much?” Which is what my thinking was then. Now that I look back to it, I have so many friends who’ve quit their jobs and gone traveling for like six months. So you definitely get a chance to do it if you really wanted to. But at that time I was thinking, oh, I’m not going to get this chance again so let me go. So I went to India and I just started applying and I ended up getting a job at Rogers when I came back. Which was like fantastic. It was a good job.

Akshay Konjier:

I worked in supply chain. I was like in the business side of supply chain. I did that for a year, but I really wanted to get into consulting. It’s one of those things like I just wanted to get into it. I didn’t really know why I wanted to get into consulting. It sounded cool. I was like, “Oh, you could travel for work.” Which at the time sounded cool, so after …

Startup Coach:

That is a compaq luggable.

Akshay Konjier:

That’s not portable at all.

Startup Coach:

Yeah. Well the keyboard goes right on the front of the monitor and turns into a handle.

Akshay Konjier:

You still have it?

Startup Coach:

No.

Akshay Konjier:

You should have kept it. It might’ve been worth something today.

Startup Coach:

Sorry for the distraction.

Akshay Konjier:

No, it’s… Craig just wanted to go down Memory lane.

Akshay Konjier:

Memory lane. Yeah. So, where were we? Oh, I was, yeah. So I just came back and I got a job at Rogers, started doing that job, decided I wanted to go into consulting, started looking consulting gigs. And that really started to like make me realize what I want to do, like career, because I like both business and computer science.

Startup Coach:

What type of consulting gigs?

Akshay Konjier:

What was I looking for or what did I get?

Startup Coach:

Both.

Akshay Konjier:

Yeah. So I was just looking for entry level consulting at the time. So all the big consulting firms basically had these like entry level roles where you go in and they just hire for like skill. Not really a specific skill, but just like general, like you can kind of do this consulting gig and then they talk to you and they put you into something. I ended up getting put into, I got a job at Deloitte, and I ended up getting put into a financial software because I had a good business background compared to all the new grads. Nobody really has any great background at that age, but in comparison and yeah, they put me into financial software.

Akshay Konjier:

So I was doing budgeting software at the enterprise level and I got to travel a little bit. In 10 months I got to travel to a couple places, which was pretty good. I just hated Deloitte. Sorry if anybody’s listening from Deloitte. It wasn’t a culture for me. I ended up getting poached to go work at a small company. I was the fourth employee, my co-founder, who we’ll talk about, she was the second employee. That’s where I met her. So yeah, that kind of made me realize like, oh, I like business. I like tech, but I also like small stuff. Like I don’t like the big corporate world.

Startup Coach:

So I was a senior manager of architecture and planning at Deloitte and Touche for five years. ​

Akshay Konjier:

So you loved it?

Startup Coach:

I loved it. I handled all their tech, converted from token ring to ethernet, turned their WAN (Wide Area Network) from five locations into 53 locations. I implemented their $30 million new daily billing program. But yeah, working for large corporations is a soulless job and it’s not what I like to do.

Akshay Konjier:

Yeah. I didn’t like it either, and I quickly realized, it’s one of those things like I’m really happy that I did in my twenties, was I took some chances to move through.

Startup Coach:

Oh, yeah. I think you need to know what you like.

Akshay Konjier:

You don’t really. You’re playing a guessing game a lot of the time. So even now as we do entrepreneurship, it’s a little bit of a guessing game to like try it. I’m like, oh, I like this or I hate this. Because in entrepreneurship you’re like, you’re allowed to do everything. There’s no stopping you. The only menace of stopping you is your skillset and your desire to do it really, right? So, yeah, it was one of those things I really resonated where we’re sitting right now at a co-working space. I think a lot of people probably resonate with not working for big companies. Maybe describe it as soulless.

Startup Coach:

Oh, well, I think it’s the cubicle. When you look out in the morning at 6:00 AM and it’s a sea of empty cubicles and by nine o’clock it’s just heads that you can see, it just something about it after a while that a lot of people love it. A lot of my friends thrive in that environment. It’s not specific to Deloitte, it’s any corporation in that area. Now, having said that, I left a CA firm and went to an actuary firms. So it’s very same type of mindset. So your work, this is how you met your co-founder Louise?

Akshay Konjier:

Yeah.

Startup Coach:

When did you decide to start a company together?

Akshay Konjier:

Yeah, I mean our … So this was like I was, seven years ago, I was 25, I’m 32 now. So we did consulting for three or four years and then we decided we were both tired of consulting and we ended up again, you just kind of have that like inflection point in your career where you’re like, well, I don’t want to do this. But what do I want to do next? So did some research and we’re like, hey, product seems interesting, it seems like an area that we can still use both our business and our tech side. It seems like an area we can be innovative.

Akshay Konjier:

But we don’t need to be in charge of everything, which is what we kind of hated about consulting at some point, like this, you have to do everything for your client. Then we also got tired of the travel. Like in four years, I did a significant amount of travel. It’s fun at first, but then I just got tired of it. So we decided to just look for product jobs. Then we ended up getting a product job at the same company. So luckily for us, we moved to the same company together.

Akshay Konjier:

Then during that time we were just always thinking like, “Oh, you know what? We want to try something because we’re never going to get that chance again.” It’s a hard thing to find a co-founder and somebody you trust that you actually want to do things with. So we were both in the opportunity to do it. So we’re like, let’s just go for it. So we did two years of product, three and a half years of consulting together, and then we decided to start something.

Startup Coach:

Making the right choice of a co-founder is vitally important.  How did you know you’d found the right one in Louise?

Akshay Konjier:

Yeah, I mean, so I think-

Startup Coach:

Or how did she know she found the right one in you?

Akshay Konjier:

You’d have to interview her. I don’t know about that one. But I think five years of working with somebody, five and a half years of working somebody, and not just working with somebody on like the same, it’s not like we worked on a job where we were sitting beside each other cubicle life. We worked two different jobs, very different challenges.

Akshay Konjier:

One of them was consulting with multiple different clients, so we got put into a lot of scenarios where you are at each other’s throats, where you’re happy or you’re sad. A lot of stuff happens in five and a half years. So you’re like, okay, like if we can put up with each other for this long and we both kind of have similar goals then we should be okay to do this. We had tested our working relationship enough at that point. Most importantly we were really good friends too.

Akshay Konjier:

That’s a big part of it. It’s a risky thing to start a business with anybody. So you really, really need to know like, be confident in your relationship with that person to really do it. It’s not just like, you can’t just go up to a networking event and meet somebody and be like, let’s start a business together, because your values or your stages of life, and everything are so different usually. Right?

Startup Coach:

Yeah, it’s definitely an important partnership and it’s, a lot of people compare it to marriage and it’s very similar.

Akshay Konjier:

Yeah, it is. It is. I mean, well we can talk about it later. I know you said some tips or something, but one of the things we can talk about later in more details, but like communicating with your co-founder is actually a very important thing. Learning to communicate with her and her learning to communicate with me. Understand, because at the end day it’s just you two and the world, right? Like nobody is there to like make you feel good.

Akshay Konjier:

There’s nobody there for you to deflect blame onto. It’s just you two in the world. So you better be able to talk to each other or you’re not going to be able to be any bit successful otherwise. Even if you are great, it’s still hard to be successful. But you have no chance if you can’t communicate with each other.

Startup Coach:

Yeah. Communication is absolutely key. So I like to say that opportunity costs is infinite. Meaning that if you’re working on this project or investing in this startup and spending all your time here, you can’t be doing an infinite amount of other things.

So why did you decide on this company? Why Scout A.I.?

Akshay Konjier:

Yeah, I mean, I think ideas don’t come overnight, they evolve. So we initially started a business that was completely unrelated. We were doing software to help meetings be more productive. It came from a … It’s good to always start businesses that come from personal pin point. The previous company we were at, there was just so many meetings and we hated it. So we wanted to do software to make meetings lower. We actually, to this day, like the tech that I built for that software with Louise is the most proud I am of any tech I’ve built.

Akshay Konjier:

But the problem was we just couldn’t sell it because productivity software, even at two plus years ago, the market was so flooded and it was, there’s so much free stuff out there. And it’s one of those things that people will say like, oh, I have a problem, but they don’t want to put money behind that actual problem. Right? That’s kind of like a big part of entrepreneurship. Like a lot of people will validate your idea, but then when money comes to it, they don’t want to put money behind it.

Startup Coach:

Yeah. It’s part of my four parts of idea validation is willingness to pay.

Akshay Konjier:

Yeah. I mean, the most important part of idea validation is the willingness to pay in my opinion at least. Because I’ve seen all the other steps, like people doing smoke tests and this and that. You just see it, then it gets to that stage, and then everything just falls off.

Startup Coach:

Yeah. Because buying your product is not the same as liking your product, again.

Akshay Konjier:

Or trying to make you feel good about your journey. Right? Like it’s like, oh yeah, no, that’s a great idea. You should keep going. But like that, I mean, encouragement doesn’t pay the bills, so you need to figure that out. So anyways, we evolved. We ended up doing some other, we started doing assessments for more strategic roles because Louise found there was a gap on some of the more difficult roles like product managers, marketing managers, and we got some traction with that. Our customers that we had gotten would keep coming back to us, which was great. So like now we had done something, we’d built something, we had sold it and we had validated that people needed it and then people had come back to us. We validated to ourselves that we could do something.

Akshay Konjier:

Even though we made very little money it didn’t really matter to us at that point, our goal was not money right now, our goal was to just understand the process of like selling something and getting. So we did that and now we’ve moved on to scout where we’re still doing assessments, but we’re doing the whole process through a chatbot. So it’s obviously not going to assess at the same level because it’s shorter and quicker, but based on the feedback we’ve received from our current clients, this is the direction we chose to move, so that’s how it’s kind of evolved into this. There’s, I gave you a very short version of it. The last year and a half, there’s a ton of meetings. We’ve had a ton of feedback we’ve gotten, it’s just evolves into this. That’s kind of what Startups is. You start with like this vision. I’m sure when you started TorontoStarts, there was some sort of vision in your head of five-year, what it’s going to look like and five years later, it’s probably different.

Startup Coach:

Honestly, when I started what became TorontoStarts, I signed up to run one event.

Akshay Konjier:

I like this more than the cooperate world.

Startup Coach:

Well, there was a group of us and after a very short period of time, it ended up being two of us, Gabriela Chan and myself. Then after a year it was just me because she had her own stuff to do. But yeah, it was one of those, I signed up to do one thing, it turns out I was doing all of them and you love it, right? It’s just I love helping customers and startups and doing what I do. So it’s easy when you’re finding a need and they’re coming to you, then you know you’ve got something.

Akshay Konjier:

Yeah. And that’s the biggest thing. So we did that last year, but the business wasn’t scalable and we knew that going into it, but we didn’t care. It was more important for us to learn. So we’re now we’re transitioning into something that’s similar, but we feel it’s a little more scalable. So hopefully we can pull more money out of it because now it’s a chatbot that’s a little bit more automated than the previous business, we’ll see. I may not go to a fully automated chatbot ever, but that was just too manual. All the workers.

Startup Coach:

So who’s your ideal client?

Akshay Konjier:

Right now I would say it’s probably HR departments with the, between a hundred to 500 is kind of where we’re finding our sweet spot. We’re having a lot of good conversations right now in that range because they have the ability to move a little bit quite quicker, try things, and things of that nature. They also have hiring difficulties just like anybody does in the city at this point. So they’re very open to, because right now if you’re a strong candidate, especially in tech, you have a lot of the leverage if not all of the leverage, right?

Akshay Konjier:

So you as a company, you need to do every little thing. It includes doing a fun application process to make sure that candidate finishes the application process, then you got to look at doing things like that. If it’s trying to evaluate candidates in a different way so that you can pull in talent that you normally wouldn’t see, you’ve got to do that. Right? Because it’s so, so competitive in tech. The top 20, 30% of tech, they just have all the leverage. Right? They just, they can go in, they can demand any money they want, they can demand whatever job they want.

Startup Coach:

Yeah. It’s hard to find the top talent here in Toronto as there’s lots of talent out there, they’re just not necessarily top talent or above average for lack of a better word, because they can usually command a fair bit here.

Akshay Konjier:

Yeah. And money, the thing is when you’re a company between 100 and 500, you can be competitive on money, but you can’t be Amazon on money. Like you just can’t. Right? It’s just like those guys will always get some element of the top talent because they just throw money at people. But you can’t live in that world because you obviously you’re not making Amazon kind of revenue.

Startup Coach:

Yeah. Everyone handles this different. Funny that we mentioned Deloitte, the partner that I worked for at Deloitte, his philosophy was that we generally paid 10% above market rate and this was years ago. Because we want people leaving to be our decision, not theirs.

Akshay Konjier:

Okay, fair. I don’t agree with that.

Startup Coach:

No, and it’s fine. But I mean, we pay above the salary rates. That means that our performers aren’t leaving for salary.

Akshay Konjier:

That’s fine. I agree with that. But I think people will still leave for multiple reasons.

Startup Coach:

All sorts of other reasons.

Akshay Konjier:

Maybe not money.

Startup Coach:

Absolutely. But that was his philosophy. But I agree, we talked about the soulless culture, there’s not much you can do about that. But for a lot of people, money makes up the difference in that.

Akshay Konjier:

Yeah. One of my old bosses used to say that I want to pay people enough money that they’re not thinking about money. That was his policy. Which just means I feel fairly compensated.

Startup Coach:

Yeah, exactly.

Akshay Konjier:

That’s it. As long as I feel fairly compensated for what I’m doing, people are generally okay with money.

Startup Coach:

Because I found in my long history of managing people that money is not a motivator, it’s a de-motivator. So you have to be very careful when you’re doing that. What’s your marketing strategy? How do you get in front of these people? How you reach out to them?

Akshay Konjier:

Yeah. So part of it is doing like everything over the last year and a half and seeing what fails and what succeeds. So one of the things we’ve learned is in 2020, the cold stuff is really tough. Like anything cold, cold LinkedIn, cold emails not to mention, it’s also illegal to do cold emails now, but that doesn’t stop most startups from doing it. But it’s just not effective anymore. Primarily because, there’s two email providers, Gmail and Outlook. Now they can very easily track spam.

Akshay Konjier:

If I spam you and you have a Gmail account, they know that that’s spam and they’ll block it for the other Gmail accounts as spamming. Right? So it’s just not effective. So what we’ve decided to do now is the last few months is really get in front of people just through networking events like the ones you run. We tried to go to it as tailored as we can. If you have a very generic business, one of our buddies does communications coaching, you can go to a generic one like yours is.

Startup Coach:

Like Max? – (Max is the founder of Potato Chip Communications )

Akshay Konjier:

Yeah, like Max’s. Whereas like I have a HR business and so I go to HR meet ups. So once you get in front of people, like just even have a five minute conversation with them and then reach out to them on LinkedIn, the acceptance rate and their willingness to meet you for coffee is through the roof.

Startup Coach:

Absolutely.

Akshay Konjier:

Because they just … They feel-

Startup Coach:

They just met you. They know you. You’re not just some random person just trying to sell them something right away.

Akshay Konjier:

Yeah. You go in obviously nonthreatening but even if you say I’m looking to get feedback and look for pilot customers, they’re generally fine with it because they met you and they understand that your energy and like they get that you’re … And it’s way, way easier where it’s like if I tried to go cold and just ping somebody, there’s no chance.

Startup Coach:

Yeah. I’m usually on the other side of that. I have a lot of people reaching out to me. So if I’ve met you, you’ve been to my events, part of my community, there’s a much better chance that I’m going to spend the time to talk to you because I know you’re around, you’re an active member. If you’re a stranger, never been to one of my events, we’re the most active community here in Toronto, we have 20, like there’s no excuse. So you want my help but you won’t come out to meet me even though I’m at six events a week and I’m doing this stuff. So there’s kind of a give and take.

Akshay Konjier:

Part of it is they see you in person, they’re like, “Oh, they’re trying.” There’s so many people out there who would just like watcherpreneurs as they say.

Startup Coach:

Yeah, wannapreneurs.

Akshay Konjier:

They’re just trying. You don’t really know who’s actually got a business, who’s actually pushing something, who’s got something to show you. So if you’re in front of them and you’ve got something to actually show people-

Startup Coach:

It makes it real.

Akshay Konjier:

Huge difference. So like, then every time I meet somebody at the end of meeting them, I ask them to intro me to somebody else. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t, but now we’re like diligent about it. Like everybody that I meet that is in the HR industry, I’m like, “Hey, do you have anybody else?” It’s going to be no pressure sales. I’m like, this is what I’m going to do. I’m going to ask for feedback. I’m going to do … So you don’t have to like … And typically people like to help startups as long as they feel like they’re actually able to help.

Startup Coach:

If they think you actually have a decent idea and a product, then they’ll happily refer to other people that might-

Akshay Konjier:

And you have stuff to show. I mean that’s the underrated thing that a lot of people-

Startup Coach:

It has to exist.

Akshay Konjier:

Yeah. A lot of people kind of go in with a lot of like, here’s my landing page. So that’s another big lesson we got over the last year when we were talking about sales is if you read a lot of the articles online, they’ll say like, put up a landing page, do smoke test, see what you get. Maybe in some businesses that may work, but when you’re doing a product business like ours, we found that talking about something and kind of like showing screenshots, everything, we just didn’t get the feedback and the buy in that we wanted. It wasn’t solid enough.

Akshay Konjier:

So like, we would go away for two or three months and we would just build. Not two or three years, but like two or three months, we would build something that would be good enough to start demoing to people. And that if we got the customer, I could scramble and I could get it ready for them. But they, it helped a lot because they said, “Oh, these guys have something. It’s not just …“

Startup Coach:

So you spent a bunch of time prototyping and then decided that you would build the back end on what you sold?

Akshay Konjier:

Yeah. I mean, generally, yes. That is-

Startup Coach:

It’s something I teach startups all the time. You don’t build something you haven’t sold yet.

Akshay Konjier:

Yeah. And I would say, when you say prototyping, I agree with you, that’s what we’re doing, but it can’t look like a-

Startup Coach:

Agreed.

Akshay Konjier:

That’s the thing. It has to look as solid as it can, especially if you’re selling to a non tech audience. They’re not going to grill you on like what server you’re using, AWS, this, that, node, but whatever. They’re not going to bug you on all that stuff, but they need to believe that you are not lying to them. You also cannot lie to them. Like you have to be able to be confident enough to execute that.

Akshay Konjier:

If they say, “I’m signing up and I need this in a month,” that you have to be able to be able to execute on that. You’re not selling some like magic. So we always try to get to that point. Then slowly, slowly as you’re doing sales cycles, you’re improving your product as well, right? So you just kind of keep going. Then just somebody hopefully signs up and then you scramble and you get it done right.

Startup Coach:

So it sounds difficult.

Akshay Konjier:

Yes, that’s what it is.

Startup Coach:

I like to try to share both success and failures. So there is a chance that others won’t make the same mistakes.

Can you tell us a time where you screwed up and made the wrong pivot or startup decision?

Akshay Konjier:

Tons. There’s so many failures in a startup. Obviously I don’t mention the meeting software. We did that initially because we thought it was a pain point and then we actually thought we did everything right because we were coming from product and we were like, let’s talk to people about blah. But then people were validating our ideas through yeah, meetings suck. Then once we started to actually put something out there, nobody wanted to use it because they don’t actually care about the problem. Right?

Akshay Konjier:

They don’t actually care to solve the problem, they just know it’s a problem, but most people are like, most people sometimes will come and use meetings kind of as a break. They’ll come and they’ll shoot the shit with their coworkers and then they’re not really thinking like, “Oh, this is very frustrating for me to sit through unproductive meetings.” The reality of it is those are the most tiring days. When you sit through five unproductive meetings, you’re exhausted. But if you sit through five productive meetings, people tend to feel actually pretty good about their day.

Startup Coach:

Yes.

Akshay Konjier:

When they’re like, “Oh, we actually got a lot done.”

Startup Coach:

Energized.

Akshay Konjier:

Yeah, you feel actually energy from being productive. And so you talk to people and they always say all these things, but then we put it out there and that was a big lesson for me to be like, “Oh, just because they say it’s a problem, unless they’re willing to use it and pay money, it’s not a big enough problem for them.” So now we have to do is you have to find a solution to a big enough problem for them, not just a problem.

Akshay Konjier:

There’s a lot of problems out there in the business world, but there is, I’ll say one that we learned maybe in the last couple of … last year, this a little bit controversial and if anybody wants to, maybe somebody is going to disagree with me on this. So we initially started when we were doing a lot this assessment stuff looking at diversity inclusion. Because that was, we were in tech and it was a part that would hit home close to us.

Akshay Konjier:

We see a lot of males, most tech teams kind of look the same, they’re like, they’re very similar. I obviously I have a female co-founder, she doesn’t see a lot of females in tech. So we started looking at diversity inclusion. So we started to build software for that, like prototyping that because we thought it would be a good place to go. We got a lot of meetings, but we started digging into the industry a little bit more and we realized something that there is a few companies in Toronto that care about it because they’re government regulated to care about it.

Akshay Konjier:

But that’s few and far between. Most executives don’t care about it enough to put a lot of money behind it at this point. Not saying it’s not a good cause. I mean it’s a good initiative. I think there’s good things to talk about inside a company trying to hit quoters, so that obviously there’s a little bit more diversity in a company, but when you give the executive a little bit truth serum on it, they don’t want to put money behind it.

Startup Coach:

Well, at a corporate level, at a CEO level, if it’s not on their top five or top 10 initiatives for the year, it doesn’t matter what it is, they don’t care. I don’t want to talk about it.

Akshay Konjier:

It was the same kind of issue we got there. It was a problem, but it wasn’t a big enough problem.

Startup Coach:

Yeah, it’s not on our radar right now.

Akshay Konjier:

So there’s no money behind it. Right? So even if there’s a diversity inclusion committee in there, which is good for culture and for everything, those employees are already paid for, they’re doing something else in the company. It’s a different thing for them to put more money behind it and bring in a tool to help them.

Startup Coach:

Yeah, it’s a feature that you would have a difficulty selling.

Akshay Konjier:

Yes. So we learned it. So we said there’s a lot of initiative but there’s no dollars behind this right now to the level that we … So we need to pivot. It was the same thing with the meeting stuff. Like we learned that there’s a problem but it’s not a big enough problem and so pivot. Like move, move, move. So now we’re hitting a target that’s a little bit more close to home, which is hiring, which every, pretty much, if you talked to every executive, it’s their number one problem. Some people issue, right?

Akshay Konjier:

So we’re trying to target that bigger problem that hits closer to home to them, which is still a hard sell. Anything is a hard sell in the in startup world. But now we’re transitioning, we’re seeing the difference in the types of conversations

Startup Coach:

It’s something they can quantify from a cost and this is saving us versus a cost point of view or the other is a little bit nebulous at this point.

Akshay Konjier:

For sure. Meetings is exactly it is and so is diversity and inclusion. It’s a hard thing to put numbers behind it. Whereas now-

Startup Coach:

The hiring process, the cost of hiring in proper, and the training is a hard number that most corporations understand about.

Akshay Konjier:

Or even screening resumes, if we can help that time reduce even a few hours for the recruiters on a boring, tedious job, there’s a hard number associated with it.

Startup Coach:

I remember a startup who was trying to sell electric scooters specifically to university crowd and their big pitch was, wanted an ecological friendly and environmentally friendly way of transportation. As he was doing the problem interviews he was talking to people, “Don’t you care for the environment, don’t you care for the environment?” Basically most of the people were saying, “Ask her that. I just want to look good on the scooter, I want to do this or want to do that.” It’s like, “Oh, okay.” Like people talk about it, but they don’t necessarily will put money behind it and as a result you have to shift your tactics around this stuff.

Akshay Konjier:

Yeah. And at the end of the day, you’re running a business, right? You can’t run it on just like problem interviews or like people’s enthusiasm. You have bills to pay you, you want to grow your business, you have to find a problem where people care. At some point, maybe diversity inclusion-

Startup Coach:

I think it’s coming. It’s just you’re too early.

Akshay Konjier:

We were too early. We knew it and so we just moved off of it.

Startup Coach:

With all the stuff Goldman Sachs is doing and everyone’s doing, I think it’s an idea as time has come, I don’t know how it’s all going to manifest, but it’s coming.

Akshay Konjier:

Yeah. If you look at hiring, the amount of money they put into hiring nowadays and marketing and all that stuff, 15 years ago, it was never like that. 15 years ago if you had the job, you had all the leverage and now the leverage is switched into the candidates side. So now we have space to come in and say something like, “Hey, we can help improve your candidate experience.” And they care.

Akshay Konjier:

15 years ago they wouldn’t have cared. They’re like, “We have a job, we have money. Why would anybody care to improve a candidate experience? We’re getting a ton of candidates. They’re begging us for jobs.” So things evolve obviously. You have to come in at the right time or you have to be just at the start of it and then like, kind of catch it.

Startup Coach:

Well, I think, we talk about diversity, but as our consumers and our audience, and everything gets more diverse, like that means our marketing and everything has to be more diverse. So it’s just a natural progression that’s all going to happen.

Akshay Konjier:

Yeah. I think 10 years from now there would be space for more diversity and inclusion in software, but I just think right now it’s just the start of it and executives have to come on board. Part of it is when you get a more diverse group of executives, you’ll see more investment in that kind of thing, get that kind of thing.

Startup Coach:

So we talked earlier about tips for founders. You were mentioned

Learning to communicate with your co-founder and how important is that?

Akshay Konjier:

Yeah, I mean I think it’s super important. I mean, I’ve known Louise now for like seven years and there’s still times where I’m like, we sit down and we’re like, “Okay, like you said that to me, I felt shitty. This is why I felt shitty.” Like as since, it sounds very like, as you said, it sounds like very marriage like, but the reality is you’re trying to build something together. You’re going through many high stress, low stress scenarios together, and so you have to learn to actually communicate each other about what you like.

Akshay Konjier:

If you sweep things under the rug and you don’t actually talk about them, then they just eventually manifest them and it’s huge and you blow up at each other. Then like there’s no benefit to that either. Right? So it is a very important thing. I think the last five, six years I’ve become better at communicating, not just like seeing words, but like saying words that actually add value to improving something. Because of this and because of running a business and knowing Louise which it’s a very difficult skill. It is a tough, tough skill because it’s not a one size fits all. The way I communicate with you is going to be different than the way I communicate with her. So it’s important, but you got to learn it. It’s like a base minimum. You have to learn.

Startup Coach:

And you have to know your partner, whether it’s a marriage or a business. Not only, not hold those things back, but know the right time to bring them up. Like now may not be the right time, but waiting two weeks isn’t the right time. So maybe this afternoon or maybe tomorrow morning you have to know and so that you can move it forward.

Akshay Konjier:

You pick your battles just like any relationship, you pick your battles.

Startup Coach:

What other tips do you have for founders?

Akshay Konjier:

So I’m not like, maybe I’ll go a little bit more life related. I think I’ve learned a lot about myself during this last couple of years. So one of the things I always recommend is plan your life. We work in a co-working space, Craig and I, and so one of the things that we’ve seen-

Startup Coach:

Workhaus

Akshay Konjier:

Yeah, work as. I didn’t know what if you give out free love, so.

Startup Coach:

We love Workhaus Coworking  here at TorontoStarts.

Akshay Konjier:

So yeah. Well, we’ve seen people come in with some idea, two or three months and then just disappear. Because they have like two or three months of runway. The reality of it is you’re just not going to do anything in two or three months. It’s not to be mean about anything, but that’s just not how it works unless you have investment coming in. So figure out a way that you can live without a salary for two years. Like just whether it’s your parents supporting, your spouse supporting you, you saving and then starting your business, and then come and start your business.

Startup Coach:

That’s so important. I coach a lot of early stage startups and the budgeting process is something we go through. They all roll their eyes and they don’t want to do it. I’m saying three months from now, four months from now, when you have no clients, you have no budget and you’re not bringing home your money and your wife says, or your husband says, “Honey, let’s go out tonight,” you can’t afford it, what are you going to do? Or he can’t afford to do this, can’t afford that, what’s going to happen? Are you going to say screw it, I’m going back to the job or are … You have to plan for it? If you don’t know this is going to all end.

Akshay Konjier:

Yeah. The moment, like the Zuckerberg story or whatever they advertise is not the reality of it. Right? Like most of the people who are entrepreneurs actually are well experienced people who are in their 30s and 40s who have started companies who grow companies and they’re the ones who are actually more successful than what you hear. It’s just that the Zuckerberg story is the one that everybody talks about. It’s not the reality, it’s the exception.

Akshay Konjier:

So yeah, that’s the number one thing that anybody, like I get a lot of people coming up to me even as just somebody who is not “successful at this point” just asking me about business. The one thing I say, it’s like, “Don’t even think about it until you have your life planned.” Because you’re not suddenly going to change who you are. You’re not suddenly going to go from eating fancy restaurants to ramen noodles overnight, like you’re still you.

Akshay Konjier:

So you’ve got to figure out a way to live that somewhat of that lifestyle or maybe a little bit degraded, but somewhat. You’re not going be on the street, you’re not going to make anything in two months, you’ve got to plan. If you do make something too much great, good on you. If you’re starting a service’s based business, then maybe you could have a shorter runway. But if you’re starting a product based business, it’s going to take you longer.

Akshay Konjier:

So you just have to have like some sort of planning, that’s the biggest thing. I did obviously we talked a lot about communication. The other one I thought was interesting as I kind of do this is to be honest with yourself as a founder and what your strengths and weaknesses are. You do everything as a founder, but you’re not good at everything as a founder. So make sure you know who, like what you’re good at. If you’re not good at something, pass it on. Figure out a way to not do it.

Akshay Konjier:

Try to get a co-founder who has complimenting skillsets. Louise’s definitely really good at certain things I’m terrible at. She’s great at writing and things like that, I’m better at tech. So we had different skill sets and just be honest with yourself. I’m not a good writer. So when a writing task comes for Louise and I, I don’t even try anymore. I just throw it at her way. When a tech thing comes, she doesn’t even try anymore. She just throws it my way, because now we’ve like been honest with ourselves about what we’re capable of, so that’s an important one. Just be honest.

Startup Coach:

It’s very important and I think a lot of people have to learn that on their own. I remember one time in one of my startups that I co-founded, my three co-founders took a week and wrote up our first press release. We went over every word and all that kind of stuff and it took us forever. Then we sent it to a friend who did this kind of thing. They flipped it back in two minutes and it was a thousand times better.

Startup Coach:

I’m like, “Wait a minute, why did we spend all this money when this is definitely not our core strength when we could have just hired somebody to do it in such a…” Yeah. You have to learn this stuff, right?

Akshay Konjier:

We had this talk last week about me messing with servers and we have the exact same talk and then I agree with you when you said it. I just, basically, I was messing around with servers and Craig said like, “You should just pay somebody to do that.” I was like, “No, no, no. If it goes down, I want to know how to handle it.” So that’s why I’m doing it. But I agree with you in a general sense.

Startup Coach:

Oh, absolutely. There’s different, like again, your lifeline and your business is something different. So we talked briefly about tools and it turns out you like to use Reddit.

What do you use Reddit for?

Akshay Konjier:

Yeah. So I mean you noted like, what tools do you use? So what I’ve started to do a lot is I search, like I go to Google a lot, if I’m looking for something specific. The other day I was looking for a cheap application tracking system to recommend to a client. So I typed, instead of typing low cost application tracking system on Google, which will give me a whole bunch of marketing content, which at the end of the day it’s good and it does provide some value. But at the end it is marketing, right?

Akshay Konjier:

Like everybody now has been told that you need to do content marketing-

Startup Coach:

It’s all SEO.

Akshay Konjier:

To the point now it’s just like flooded. So you don’t really know what to believe. Capterra, if you go on any of those sites, it’s all paid. The reviews are paid, the rankings are, a lot of this is influenced by money. So it becomes difficult to find like objective information. So I know Reddit has marketing on it too, but at least it gives me some idea that it will not be marketing.

Akshay Konjier:

So I’ll type in something, I’ll type Reddit, then I’ll just see the threads and I’ll read the comments. I’ll read up, I’ll look at the uploads and be like, oh these are like, this looks like just a normal person hanging around in the human resources subreddit trying to give me suggestions. And I find more comfort in that than I do in all of the content marketing stuff you see now.

Startup Coach:

It’s interesting that it’s a pattern that people are moving away from Google as their source of information and finding these other subgroups that have more accurate information or more active in their segments.

Akshay Konjier:

Yeah. I’ve heard like there’s Slack groups.

Startup Coach:

Absolutely telegram, Slack, WhatsApp.

Akshay Konjier:

That are like tailored to certain areas and those are better places if you really care to find out information about something, those tend to be better places. Because those are places where people have actually tried things and not just like trying to sell you stuff with content marketing. Right?

Startup Coach:

How important is being able to pitch for an entrepreneur?

Akshay Konjier:

I mean, it’s always important to be able to talk and explain your idea and your benefits to your idea. But I think most importantly is to figure out your value prop. If you figure out your value prop, which is what we’re doing right now and what we did last year, it’s always been our focus because we’ve worked at companies that have gotten big, like “big” like not huge but like big enough that you’re like, oh look cool, this is a cool startup. They don’t know their value prop. They just got investment, they spend money, they hire a whole bunch of people and they still don’t know the value prop and I promise you that ends bad.

Startup Coach:

I can tell you examples. I work with Google, been to Google their team here, they only like working with company that pay $10,000 a month or more in ads. I’ve talked to them, these people get 10 million in investment and come to them, they end up spending $100,000 a month in ads and they’re still figuring out their value prop. They don’t know who the customer are, they don’t have the messaging, they don’t have a target and they’re there. I’m like, this is what you need to be doing at this early stage. So they’re throwing away hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Akshay Konjier:

And Google will happily take it.

Startup Coach:

Absolutely.

Akshay Konjier:

So that’s why we don’t run a lot of marketing and things like that because I don’t know who to target and I just will burn through money if I do that. So I mean as you were saying, what’s important to pitch, yes, it’s important to pitch, but it’s more important to know what your value prop is because then the pitch comes off natural and you actually know, like you feel confident in what you’re pitching. Because you’re like, “Oh, person X, like I can actually help you. Because I figured out that this is my value prop and you have that problem.”

Akshay Konjier:

So the pitch becomes easier, you don’t feel like you’re an impostor and you’re like lying to them. So we’ve always focused on that piece because I was just like, if you don’t figure that piece out, everything else around it is kind of just like magic, it’s just like fake. So yes, it’s important to pitch, but it’s more important to know your value prop so you can pitch properly.

Startup Coach:

Any advice for startup seeking advisors?

Akshay Konjier:

Yeah. So when I was first starting this, I would think like, if, let’s say I needed help in sales. So then I would hit up a couple of people that I’ve worked with in the past in sales and they would give you advice. But the problem was they would give me advice at a scale that I wasn’t at. I quickly started to realize that I was doing this a few times and it was like not helpful advice. So if I needed help with sales or let’s say marketing, I need help with marketing, then I went to somebody who’s a director of marketing at a company that’s 500 people.

Akshay Konjier:

And they were like, “Hey yeah, why don’t you create a test area for Google ads and just put a thousand bucks there.” I was like, “A thousand bucks, I don’t have a thousand bucks. I just don’t have that money.” So there’s like, that’s your test area. Your thousand, like my full marketing budget for the year as a startup might be $1,000. Now you’re talking to me about a thousand dollars to just test one key, it becomes really irrelevant. It’s not to say that people are, who are in the non-startup world can’t help you, but I started to get a lot better, more realistic advice when I started to go to people who had recently done stuff at a smaller scale, because it was a scale that I was at.

Akshay Konjier:

So when I could talk to them, they understood the pains of not having money and things like that. So I would say if you’re looking for advisors, look for people who have recently done stuff at the scale you’re at. And even if they are not in the area of expertise, so say they’re like a founder, but they’re not the, they’re the technical founder and you’re looking for sales advice, they will still understand the scale and the problems of sales at that level more than somebody who is a salesperson in a thousand person company. They’ll just understand it more, they can probably have empathy for your issues a lot more than that person who works at a thousand. So just look for people in similar scale that you are in.

Startup Coach:

Good advice.

 So your startup is up and running, what’s next?

Akshay Konjier:

Yeah. So right now we’re looking for pilot customers to give our chatbot a go. So we’re working to sign on a couple. We’ve got a couple of deals that are looking promising, which is really great for us, and so that’s really it. We’re going to take a few pilot customers for the year. That’s all we can handle and then we’re going to learn with them. We’re going to reiterate on our project with them for a few months at least. Then we’ll prove it and then we’ll go back out and do more sales.

Akshay Konjier:

But like right now we’re just trying to, first quarter is really just find those couple pilot customers that we feel have similar values to us that are engaging, that we can ask questions, that’ll give us good feedback, and then just kind of work with them and improve our profits slowly.

Startup Coach:

Sounds great. So where can people go and find out more?

Akshay Konjier:

Yes, so our website is getscout.ai. That’s G-E-T-S-C-O-U-T.ai.

Startup Coach:

Thank you for taking the time to be on Startup Talk today.

Akshay Konjier:

Thanks Craig, appreciate it.

​This has been Startup Talk, Toronto Startup Podcast. For more exclusive content, the episode volt, and to be part of Toronto Starts community, visit torontostarts.com. Get your name on the newsletter mailing list and check out our upcoming events. For more episodes, subscribe now and please recognize the time and work behind the scenes put into connecting you with the biggest visionaries, entrepreneurs and innovators in Toronto by leaving a five star review. Join us for more next episode from Toronto’s most active entrepreneur and startup community on Startup Talk.

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