Anand Janefalkar left corporate America to launch his first startup. It has already raised $100M and has become one of the fastest-growing ventures in its space on the way to transforming customer service. The venture, UJET has raised funding from top-tier investors like Kleiner Perkins, Google Ventures, Citi Ventures, Sapphire Ventures, and DCM.
In this episode you will learn:
- What UJET is doing to transform customer service
- What he would do more of instead of reading books
- What helped them raise so much capital from great investors.
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About Anand Janefalkar:
As Founder and CEO of UJET, Inc., Anand Janefalkar has 15 years of experience in the technology industry and has served as a technical advisor for various startups in the Bay Area.
Prior to founding UJET, he served as Senior Engineering Manager at Jawbone, and also previously contributed to multiple high-profile projects at Motorola.
Anand received a Bachelor of Engineering, Electronics from Mumbai University and a Master of Science, Telecommunications from Southern Methodist University.
Connect with Anand Janefalkar:
Read the Full Transcription of the Interview:
Alejandro: Alrighty. Hello everyone, and welcome to the DealMakers show. I’m super excited with our guest today. We’re going to be talking quite a bit about building and scaling, about coming here to the U.S., doing a little bit of the corporate side of things, and then diving into it and taking the leap of faith. So without further ado, let’s welcome our guest today. Anand Janefalkar, welcome to the show.
Anand Janefalkar: Thank you for having me.
Alejandro: Originally born in India, so let’s do a little bit of a walk through memory lane. How were the upbringings for you there?
Anand Janefalkar: As you can imagine, in India, at least in the days that I grew up, you had to basically take either engineering or being an engineer or doctor. Otherwise, you’re a social outcast. Things are much better now, and with my dad being a chemical engineer, obviously, engineering was the path that I gravitated toward. The other aspect of living in a large population that is very technically adept is the competition. The early things that shaped me for the journey that I’m on today are, essentially, a lot of competition, understanding that the world is a global market, and everything followed after that.
Alejandro: In your case and as you were saying, engineering. Why is that pressure in India happening around either becoming a doctor or becoming an engineer? What’s going on with that?
Anand Janefalkar: I think in those days, it was largely because people were looking around themselves, and the careers that were taking off were in the engineering and medical spaces. There were a lot of pharmaceutical companies that were seeing an explosion in a way, not just manufacturing, but research. On the engineering side, it was a lot about managed services and building websites. This was pre-2000 before I started my undergrad. I think those were the main reasons. Everyone loves job continuity and stability in their careers and the opportunity to do more. I think those were the main motivations why people were leaning toward those professions.
Alejandro: So, why come to the U.S. because, obviously, that was a pivotal moment for you in your career.
Anand Janefalkar: Yeah, very good question. I had a little bit of a different viewpoint. I found that out early in my journey in engineering. Even before engineering, yes, my dad’s engineering background was an influence on taking that path. However, I vividly remember looking at different kinds of media. Media was getting ubiquitous then and movies. In a movie, I remember that I had looked at a car phone. That sparked my interest in how does wireless communication work or cordless communication at that point, and how do you ensure the quality for that. That led to an interest in satellite communications and cellular communications. I was certain that I wanted to go ahead and build cellular devices. That led to looking at doing research and doing my Master’s in telecommunications, which led me to Dallas to do my Master’s in telecommunication. The rest is history.
Alejandro: In this case, you were in Motorola for quite a bit.
Anand Janefalkar: Yes.
Alejandro: Then, after six years there doing the telecommunications, you took a different approach, and rather than being in the super large type of corporations, you decided to join startup land.
Anand Janefalkar: That was also an interesting trajectory. Motorola was an incredibly great company to be an employee of. I’m not sure if it was a great company to be a customer, at least, in the latter days. However, I cut my teeth with the most amazing people around me, people that had tons and tons of research backgrounds, scaling backgrounds, security, the DMAIC processes, the Sixth Sigma. I do attribute a lot of my professional upbringing in security and scale to what I learned at Motorola. What I found out more and more in the years from 2003 to 2009 and beyond is that, yes, you can build incredible hardware, which we used to do at Motorola, but the world did not care about hardware as much as they cared about user experience. User experience was coming on in a very big manner post-2006. What I quickly realized is that user experience is rare where the world is going. I also figured out that to make an impact in the next generation of devices, services, or anything like that, I was not going to have that opportunity at Motorola because a lot of the focus was mainly on hardware, which was our bread and butter. That led me to take the leap of faith. I also was always very entrepreneurial, and looking at the trends, the infrastructure, and the investor circles in the Bay Area were extremely appealing, and that’s what led to me making the move from Chicago land to the San Francisco Bay Area.
Alejandro: What was that like, because I’m sure it was shocking? It was not only shocking at the employment level because here, now, but it was all about hyper-growth and a different mindset. But then, also, you were probably exposed to now the entrepreneurial drive, the innovation side of things, everyone with great ideas in the Bay Area. So how were those two fronts, because I’m sure those were quite shocking to you?
Anand Janefalkar: Yeah, on multiple levels. Yeah, some were shocking, definitely surprising, and new. It’s a funny story. One of the first shocking experiences I had was when I was interviewing at a company in the Bay Area, and someone offered me a beer after the interview. I thought it was a trick question because, at least in those days in Chicago land at Motorola, you needed a liquor license to be able to serve alcohol on the premise.
Alejandro: No kidding.
Anand Janefalkar: I really thought it was a trick question. But later, I found out that it’s common practice. So it’s a funny experience there. But like you said, it’s a very different focus. I think my motivation and the inspiration were to understand user experience. The world had moved on from the ‘90s or early 2000s, where people were like, “Yeah, you need to go through a 100-page catalog to understand how complicated the service is and to use it effectively. Technology appears in the background, and the user experience shines, and the ease-of-use shines. That’s one of the things I attribute to learning intimately at Jawbone. It’s a little bit of a shift of understanding on, “Yes, you need to design services with scale, security, and user experience in mind, but the user experience should not be taking the backseat where you need to have tons of help in doing that. I think it’s evident with the advent of smartphones. No one reads a manual before starting to use your smartphone. It is the user experience that shines. It’s very different from those perspectives, and I am eternally thankful that I made that move and was accepted in this community. Then the other understanding is how you need to expand your skill set to not just engineering and not just building teams, not just leadership but to having an appreciation for marketing and sales because that is something that you don’t really get at the companies is, yes, there is a machine of sales and marketing, but you’re working in the engineering and technical side of things. You really don’t appreciate how much effort and money and the emotional hooks are needed for getting the consumers’ attention or the target market’s attention. All of those things were very evident from my early days in the Bay Area, and the culmination of all of that is when I decided to start UJET is what helped me on this journey and, hopefully, will continue to help me in my team.
Alejandro: So let’s talk about that. How did you come across the idea of UJET, and how did you realize like, “I think it makes sense for me to get this idea in this bus and take it in a direction to success?
Anand Janefalkar: Yeah. I kind of stumbled upon it, but the main reason for that is that I always wanted to start a company. I thought the elements that I had in my skillset were building great teams, retention, positioning people for internal and external success, as well as the technical know-how. But I wanted to take that further into a very impactful and high user experience-led effort. When I asked myself: what is the biggest problem that I face on a regular basis? If you look at my last name, you’re one of the few that pronounces it really well. You try to get onto a customer support call and have them pronounce that, let alone send an email to you, which is my last name at the popular email address. I never get those emails. To me, having the background of doing a little bit with this macro shift of people absorbing and communicating in the modern world with smartphones, it almost feels like it’s a broken path or a broken interaction when you talk to customer support because today when you communicate with friends and family, you communicate visually and contextually sharing photos, videos, screenshots, locations, other metadata, and all of that happens automatically. Whereas, when you get on a support call, you’re taking the same two humans who are very digitally acquainted who are very much in the interaction model of communicating visually, contextually, and using all of these smartphone APIs. You’re taking their senses; you’re almost raising the senses that they use in everyday life and asking them to jump on a conversation to solve the problem. That was very intriguing to me, and that is what led me to go into this path like there needs to be a system that is adapting an interaction model. As a technologist, you don’t get this opportunity too often, which is to build something with a behavior change that has happened in 2008, 2009, almost seven to eight years before I started UJET, and ensure that the continuity of those interactions go beyond just the sales cycle and go to the support cycle, the post-sale service, retention, and expansion. So that was very compelling. When I looked at the sector, there was no one that had the technical know-how or the interest, it seemed like, in taking a customer communication or customer experience to the smartphone era.
Alejandro: Let’s talk about business models. For the people that are listening, what is the business model, and how do you guys make money?
Anand Janefalkar: I think before understanding the business model, I would love to say the problem statement.
Alejandro: Go for it.
Anand Janefalkar: The problem statement is that today, consumers, pretty much for any product and service, communicate through the three main connection points that are separate from what our industry calls channels. Our industry calls channels as phone, chat, and self-serve or FAQs. However, when your consumers are connecting with you or any product and service, they’re usually connecting through the mobile, mobile app, or mobile browser. They’re either just picking up the phone. They’re searching on their favorite search engine and looking at a support phone number, or they are going to the web and trying to look for answers. The problem statement is that you need to meet the customer at the connection point and not just keep pushing the channels that you might have had for the last 10-20 years. That is what the value prop is. Our business model is taking the two ends of the conversation—there is the consumer, and there is the support team. Whether the support team is communicating in voice chat, SMS, FAQs, and all of that, that is secondary because both sides have a device that does not have the limitation of just doing voice, just doing chat, or just doing SMS, and so on, which was the issue ten years ago. To make sure that channel in-between them, the interaction model in-between them is the smartphone era; that is what UJET does. Our business model is to enable these communications in a very fluid and rich context manner and visual and contextual enablement so that when these two endpoints or these two humans are communicating with each other, they don’t feel like it’s different from communicating with friends and family. A lot of the information that is already available in their account, in their app, after they log in on the webpage, furthermore to their customer record and past history is immediately rendered onto the agent’s screen with our deep integration with the CRMs so that they can solve the problem very quickly. I state one nuance about the business model, which is it’s not about nickel-and-diming and saying, “It’s a transaction-based one.” It is more about the resolution-based model. That is different than what I saw in the sector. It’s very much time-based and not resolution-based. So that is the difference that the viewers or the listeners to this podcast would realize when they dig deeper into our solution is it’s a very different take even from the billing and the business model perspective.
Alejandro: As we’re talking about business, your background is very much engineering, and this is your first company where you’re taking the lead on the business side. I know for a fact that transitioning from the engineering mindset or the engineering background to blending it into the business side of things is not easy. What have you done in order to get up to speed quickly?
Anand Janefalkar: Fantastic question. Luckily, I was early days, even at the end of my high school. I came from a decent family, but we didn’t have a lot of money, so one of my first summer jobs was selling internet service packages, dial-up service packages on the streets of Bombay. Very early on, I had the appreciation for sales. That really helped. It wasn’t just a complete change of a viewpoint of the world is like, why do I need to do sales or why do I need to do that? I always had that appreciation, and then, luckily, I got introduced to a lot of great people that were subject matter experts in the sector for sales and marketing. Like I say, it’s not easy to have just a complete paradigm shift in your thinking, so for things like that, I just always rely on hiring people or people that are smarter than me to join that effort.
Alejandro: Absolutely. When it comes to business and to UJET, you guys have raised quite a bit of money, too. How much have your raised so far?
Anand Janefalkar: We’ve raised over $100 million from top investors.
Alejandro: You’ve definitely raised from top investors. Some of the names that we have there are people like Google Ventures, Citi Ventures, Kleiner Perkins, Sapphire Ventures, DCM. If it was the Oscars and the red carpet, you have them all, all the VCS, all the top ones. They’re walking in their tuxedos or their dresses. How did you manage to do that?
Anand Janefalkar: You say that, but if you look at these investors, they’re extremely human, and they’re very much driven to solve problems the same way that I am. I’m grateful that they took a chance on an engineer, too, that has no background in customer support but has a background in user experience to bring user experience to customer support. We’ve been fortunate, but I think it’s also because these leading investors have taken a chance more on the user experience side of things and then helped us capitalize so that we can move a little faster as opposed to raising less money and going a little bit slower. As you can see around us today, having brand awareness is something that is really important. Otherwise, there is someone else that will have better brand awareness, and even if they have over a solution, technically, it doesn’t matter. I’m definitely very happy that we’ve been able to capitalize on the company in a manner that helps us to move fast. And brand awareness is something that we are solidly working on right now because we’ve proven pretty much everything else. For seven quarters in a row, we have been rated #1 in customer satisfaction on D2 Crowd, and we’ve proven our scaling and security side, as well. We have all the certifications, except [19:18], which we will have later this year. It’s been a great journey, and the investors have definitely helped quite a bit. I often lean on their pattern recognition to understand what are the basic business trends that you see in a company of our size and scale and where it needs to be? And then the team. For any entrepreneurs listening out there, technology is predictable, but people are not, so always over-index on hiring the right people.
Alejandro: There are probably a lot of people that are listening that are foreigners, just like you and me that are also first-time entrepreneurs that maybe don’t have the connections and were in your same situation when you were thinking, “I need to raise money for this.” Do you have any strategy or method that you use that ended up being super effective and beneficial for you in order to get in front of the right people and in order to close them?
Anand Janefalkar: Yeah. If that is a question that people have, I’m probably a living example that it doesn’t matter about these connections. Just be genuine and have the drive and passion to do it. When I started raising money, I did not know anyone at all in the VC community. I emailed my network, and thankfully, a couple of people introduced me to their investors and the connections that they had. But I think one of the things, and I don’t want to speak for my investors, but I’m sure one of the things that they will say is, the authenticity and the drive are what they saw in our team that helps them continue to back us and purchase a bit in every follow-up round.
Alejandro: In terms of the journey ahead and how things are panning out, if you were to go to sleep tonight, and you wake up in a world where the mission and vision of UJET are fully realized, what does that world look like?
Anand Janefalkar: That world would look like—I’ll give a couple of examples. One of the most painful ones today is when you’re calling in for precertification of the CT Scanner or MRI, you get asked so many questions, things that are not related to what you’re trying to accomplish, and you’re always anxious and worried about that situation because it’s a very difficult situation that you’re in if you want to go into imaging for you or your loved ones. So the ability to do that in a very effective manner in the minimum amount of time and accurately and with automation be able to pass that information visually and contextually to the healthcare provider would look very different. I would be in a matter of a couple of minutes because they already have your information on file, and they can verify you through touch ID and face ID the same way you do with your other apps and be able to share some of your insurance information, take a picture of your card, and so on and so forth. Let’s say you’re on the highway. You’re driving along, and something chips your windshield. You’re pulling on the side. You’re calling your favorite company that’s going to help fix the glass as well as your insurance company. Being able to have the three, four, or five-way call in a matter of seconds, get connected, have your insurance card already teed-up to be shared with the team, your location automatically sent over there, getting the tow truck. Those are the things that it will enable. It will enable getting more of your time back. It will enable getting less frustrated on support calls, on things that you’re trying to achieve and get results. That is what the world would look like. And I can go on and on, but these are a couple of things that should resonate with the audience.
Alejandro: For the people that are listening to really get an understanding of the scope and size of UJET, is there anything that you can share, like maybe the number of employees or anything else.
Anand Janefalkar: Yeah, we’re about 200 employees is what we’re sharing, and we will be a seven-year-old company in July, so we’re still the youngest company in this sector that’s managing certain large enterprise accounts. What we want to do from here is increase our brand awareness, which is the thing that we need to work on the most, and getting people to know us, and getting people to understand how this can help them with not only customer loyalty but repeat customers as well as reducing churn on their products and services.
Alejandro: In the last year, you guys have grown the team by about 49%, according to some of the public data that I was able to come across. I think that when you grow your organization fast, typically, things may tend to break, so in order to avoid that and to make sure that people are very much aligned with the culture and the mindset, how do you guys go about that?
Anand Janefalkar: Great question, and we’ve typically doubled it every year from a standpoint of the team as well as the revenue and stuff. I strongly believe that when you’re a founder and CEO, you’re more of a Chief Enablement Officer than a Chief Executive Officer. Yes, you have your day job as a CEO, but the real thing that you’re doing once the team has passed 25 to 50 people is ensuring that all of the practices that helped you have a successful team from 25 to 50 team members continues to do that in terms of culture, in terms of hiring practices, in terms of effectiveness. We spend a lot of time ensuring that we’re hiring the right people. We like to get emotionally attached to whoever we’re going to hire because we don’t believe that it’s just a transactional type of relationship here. We enable people; we position them to be successful both internally and externally, so we spend a lot of time on our hiring. What that has allowed us to do is not only maintain an extremely high level of effectiveness but also maintain our culture. Our culture of values is very straightforward, being human, being accountable, being respectful, being transparent, and speaking up whenever you see something is wrong. Having clear guidelines around that, having that dialog with your team members, regardless of—it doesn’t really matter whether you’re two levels or three levels. We try to have a great organization, but it still doesn’t matter. You can speak up if you’re seeing something that is not working right. That has enabled us across the board, whether it’s my direct reports or their direct reports to maintain a very clear understanding of where the struggles are, whether they’re technical struggles, or they’re human struggles, or whether they are organizational struggles. Now being global and having employees in over seven countries, it really helps having that clear, open communication and quarterly meetings with every single team.
Alejandro: That’s amazing. That reminds me of the statement that I saw on the subway in New York City that said: if you see something, say something.
Anand Janefalkar: Exactly.
Alejandro: Yeah, good stuff.
Anand Janefalkar: It’s amazing how that can help because if you enable people to speak up and share things, of course, they also have to be accountable and be respectful, and they can’t cry wolf all the time, so that’s why all of these values go hand-in-hand. But it gives you a deep understanding of how things look from various different perspectives and not just yours.
Alejandro: 100%. Imagine I put you into a time machine, and I bring you back in time to that moment about five years ago or so when you were thinking about starting UJET, if you could go and have a sit-down with that younger Anand and share with that younger Anand based on your current wealth of knowledge, what has worked out, what hasn’t worked out, the fundraising, or engaging with the great investors that you’re engaging now if you were able to have a sit-down and give that younger Anand one piece of advice before launching a business, what would that be and why given what you know now?
Anand Janefalkar: Fantastic question. I actually think about this a lot every day. What I would do differently is I wouldn’t do anything else differently except for this thing. I would hire a sales leader in my first five hires. Furthermore, I would invest more in marketing and channel, especially for enterprise software. Those are the things that I feel that I didn’t have a great understanding about, obviously, because this is my first enterprise software gig. That would be one singular big thing that I would tell myself. I think we could have been where we were at least a year or two years ago, but I would have known that.
Alejandro: Why the sales individual? Why?
Anand Janefalkar: Because as a technical founder, you tend to think and do naturally is over-index on making robust technology. It’s great that we were able to do that, but having a sales marketing channel understanding as to the very early DNA of the company, especially in enterprise software, there’s no substitute for that. I think what that would have done is just accelerated our path even more. I think we’re fast-growing; I think we’re in one of the fastest-growing companies in this sector, if not all enterprise software, but that would have even furthermore accelerated our path. I think that’s something that I will carry with me to any future ventures that I may embark on. But that is absolutely what I would tell myself even three or four years ago, if not five years.
Alejandro: Nice. Now, obviously, first-time founder and a remarkable journey. What is a book that you wish you would have read sooner?
Anand Janefalkar: I would have just spoken to a lot more people that have had these journeys. I’m a big believer in the human connection. I believe that you’re a product of your relationships and experiences. I would have just met a lot of people that have done this before, and unfortunately, I didn’t have the network or the connections when I started this, but rather than reading a book—and there’s no problem with books, but I would rather talk to the individuals that have been there and done that and learned from their pattern recognition, lessons learned and helped guide my journey so that I don’t make the same mistakes or the same things that they had to painfully learn. I would benefit from them.
Alejandro: History repeats, as they say.
Anand Janefalkar: History repeats, and there are certain best practices that you learn or you architect best practices, and I want to know them from the architects.
Alejandro: 100%. Anand, for the people that are listening, what is the best way for them to reach out and say hi? l
Anand Janefalkar: My LinkedIn is probably the best way. The absolutely best way is through connection, and I think if there’s one piece of information that I’d like to share with any entrepreneur or budding technologist is that the way that I got connected to the investors is through a second degree. So reach out to me at [email protected] or over my LinkedIn.
Alejandro: Amazing. Anand, thank you so much for being on the DealMakers show today.
Anand Janefalkar: Thank you for having me.
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