In the ever-evolving landscape of entrepreneurship, success stories often emerge from unexpected beginnings. One such compelling narrative is that of Ganesh Shankar, the visionary Co-Founder of Responsive, a cloud-based SaaS solution revolutionizing how organizations share and exchange information.
Responsive has attracted funding from top-tier investors like Plug, PayPal, and Play Tech Center.
In this episode, you will learn:
- Ganesh Shankar’s entrepreneurial journey, from a conservative upbringing in India to founding Responsive, showcases the power of breaking away from conventional paths.
- Pivoting from financial services to technology, Ganesh identified a gap in the market and co-founded Responsive, a customer-funded success streamlining response management.
- Responsive’s unique approach of being a customer-funded business with a focus on sustainable growth has garnered over 2,000 customers, including 25 Fortune 100 companies.
- The company’s core values—Get It Done, See Something Say Something, Giving Back Time, Be Agile and Nimble, and Delight the Customer—have played a pivotal role in shaping a positive and united company culture.
- Ganesh envisions a world where Responsive transforms how organizations share and exchange information, providing a unified platform beyond RFPs for a variety of use cases.
- Reflecting on lessons learned, Ganesh emphasizes the importance of humility, networking, and validation, along with the readiness to say no and pivot at the right time.
- Responsive’s success lies not only in its innovative platform but also in its foundation of a strong team and a values-driven company culture, promising a future where global organizations seamlessly share and respond to information.
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About Ganesh Shankar:
Ganesh Shankar is the Chief Executive Officer and co-founder of Responsive (formerly RFPIO), the market leader of an emerging category of “must-have” go-to-market solutions called strategic response management.
Led by Shankar, Responsive has been ranked by Inc. Magazine as one of the fastest-growing private companies and counts many Fortune 500 companies as customers.
Shankar was recognized by The Software Report as one of the top 50 SaaS CEOs of 2022; awarded the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year – PNW Winner in 2020; voted Top CEOs to Work For in Portland by Comparably; and honored in Portland Business Journal’s 40 Under 40.
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Read the Full Transcription of the Interview:
Alejandro Cremades: Alrighty Hello everyone and welcome to the deal maker show. So today. We have another founder joining us. You know a founder with a really exciting Story. A story you know where we’re gonna be talking about all the good stuff that we like to hear like the building the scaling the financing we’re gonna be talking about. Why they started the business to begin with you know how they went about ah raising you know the money that they did and then as Well. You know why you know and how it took them. You know the time that it took them to really bring the a senior executive team as well as.
Ganesh Shankar: I will raise.
Alejandro Cremades: Really getting started. You know with with with bringing like the bigger customers. So again, a really inspiring story ahead of us so without furtherdo. Let’s welcome our guest today Ganesh Shankar welcome to the show.
Ganesh Shankar: Hi Alessandro thanks for having me feel honored to be part of this podcast have listened to yours show and thanks for having me. So.
Alejandro Cremades: So originally born in India gonna so give us a walk through memory lane. How is life growing up over there.
Ganesh Shankar: Um, yeah, you, you’re absolutely right? So I was born and raised in India almost ah um, on my my childhood teenage would all those time were spent in India you initial my corporate ah career also started in India. So ah. Coming from. Ah I would say looking back memory land. My family is all about working for the government. You know my in. My. In fact, I do is to remember um my my saying from my my mom. My father’s mom. She always says. Even if you get a a quarter cent in in terms of inrupe. She would prefer that come from the government. That’s how we were born in a bond race to my my dad’s brother whom we so look up in our family. He was a retired kernel. And my dad is also a retired agriculture state government department employee so all along entrepreneurial thing was not in in our side of the family pretty much we were coming from a working class. Maybe that is also another reason I was I was radical enough to think. Okay, why should I be in the same path I want to do something on my own and I always always be passionate about doing something on my own I can connect so many dots looking back on. It was not intentional at that time.
Ganesh Shankar: But now I’m speaking I was always you know, interested in doing entrepreneur or something but looking back I feel like those small small steps that I’ve done even my childhood days Teenage Js and my college days and my post ah colleges feels I did it for a reason in in hindsight. To become an entrepreneur whom we are who are my home whom I am now. Yeah.
Alejandro Cremades: Now obviously you know in in India you have that a pressing culture towards either becoming an engineer or becoming a doctor now in your case, you realize you know quite early on that the computer you know the whole computer thing was maybe not your calling. Yeah.
Ganesh Shankar: Correct I know you you’re absolutely right on road you got to be an engineer or a doctor neither profile suited me or not I was not a studious. You know? Um, yeah. Guide to to to learn From. Ah, you know if I were to call myself I’m more of a practical guy than the studios. Um, you know So Ah I did pursue on during my undergrad I did Pursue Computer science as my major just when I finished that that’s when I realized.
Ganesh Shankar: Something I did not really enjoy through and I also ah you know enjoyed um you know networking connecting people that was my for time. So I decided to you know finish my undergrad. And I decided to pursue immediately my postduation doing my Mba again. That’s also in India or in most specifically in Kumbba or the place I was born and raised I did my Mba majoring in finance and marketing. So I’ve never in my life. Dreamt about running a software company and the all happened I would say with series of events but that I would not call a series of unfortunate one everything in my life I look at a series of fortunate that and happened. It’s all great learning. So I don’t have any. Ah, cool garage story or and raising like ah like a phoenix rising from the fire I don’t have those things pretty much in my life. What I’ve saw a lot of people have helped me and all those good people you knowered I thought about good thinking for me and I think know. Reason why I am here today is make cause of those good people thought good things to do good things. So.
Alejandro Cremades: So on your case, you know always see the financial services. You know what’s the route to follow for you and you know before you actually got started with your company with responsive which you’ve been at now for about 8 years which is like crazy the amount of time if you think about it, you put that into. Corporate you know that’s like 100 years I mean it’s incredible. We’re gonna be talking about that journey in just a little bit but you know it took ah a couple of um of experiences you know working for India Bulls or navia markets or or even you know a couple more companies that you did right before Exteri which was the.
Ganesh Shankar: I.
Alejandro Cremades: Immediate you know jump before you know going and getting to work with responsive walk us through you know, Basically what were some of the lessons that you got there and and more importantly, that transition that put you into the Us you know because right now you’re here, you’re in the land of Opportunity. How was that transition to and and and what caught you to get going with with. With with with becoming an entrepreneurial.
Ganesh Shankar: You’re you’re absolutely right on anro. So even if you look at it right? Um, us was not even in in I was not even an eligible person to to win the first to begin with to be in us because in us if you want to especially if you’re from India you you have to. You know to to to proceed with the masters or to do something your Hege fund b visa they require you to complete a four year degree and I did our or a six year degree you have to do 4 year ear or a 6 year I did undergrad 4 year and you know combined with the post graduation. It has to these 6 years I um I fallen in between my undergrad was 3 years and my postgrad was 2 years so total put together I did not fall into 4 4 year undergrad not a combined of a 6 year so I never in my in my ah, wildest dream I thought I would be in the us and and you know today.
Ganesh Shankar: I’m I’m a naturalized citizen of us. But it is not how it all began you know back in the day when I finished my Mba like you said this is in 2005 I saw ah the financial markets you know booming you know again, it it went and then I saw that opportunity to pursue my career a lot of companies back in India are also. You know, ah flourishing especially in that segment. Ah so I decided to pursue that as ah as a sales rep selling mutual funds you know insurance predominantly you know stock market accounts you got to open you know stock market accounts so working for broker. That’s always started my career with India was who is a stock broker. And I started there and I moved to you know in the same area I want to pursue higher career aspirations. So I went to navia markets where I pretty much handled the entire South India for sales at some point of time I had about 60 different reps across South India but all reporting under my arc when it comes to sales. Ah, this is a very good ride to you know, mid 2008 crash came in 12009 crash came and you know everything came crumbling down you know investors were became you know very you know, very. Um, you know, ah much hurt during the period and know the business was not good doing good and personally speaking I also because I have sold so many investors I’m not talking about these are professional and these are you know you know retirement money. These are people who who had their savings put in in a stock market. They want to.
Ganesh Shankar: I’m talking about individuals who are investing in stock market I’ve in that crash I’ve seen literally people cry in front of me to say hey is there any way we can I felt literally helpless I can’t do anything as a sales rep what can I do? What can I you know only thing they are asking is not to. Cut their positions. You know, but companies cannot operate it that way so they leverage extra money we have to cut position which means they are incurring losses so it was ah it was almost a blood bot that I saw in front of my eyes. That’s when I realized that is not something I want to do for my rest of my career. And I also understand things that I can control I felt like technology is something if I get my hands on I would not be like helpless like what I was in financial services I would be just a drop in you in case of technology I truly believe I can make a meaningful impact for whomever I saw I’m servicing so I decided to pivot at that time. Like I said I was handling the entire South India when I pivoted I think that was one of the best decisions in my life that I’ve made and if I had to pick up a couple of decisions that I’ve made the 1 number 1 decision is moving my career from financial services to technology but did not have any any. Expectation I went to an individual almost like a junior role I became like a junior business analyst like an individual contrait. Not a team I was managing a team I was a manager I was almost like a vp but invented to a business analyst role and started from scratch. You know from listening to how other product managers to.
Ganesh Shankar: Taking notes. That’s how I I started my career pretty much from 0 after almost five years of successful career if you look at my you know w 2 the prior area pivotting to my technology was almost triple what I did in the the immediate year when I pivoted in my in interview. So that’s how I thought and and I’m glad um you know I did that pivot. Um I took the risk and leap of faith getting new technology. So then the second important decision I made in my life I would say is moving back to the roots. You know again, this is. And I switched. It’s a company called news street into technology that was in in in a different place that was not in my place where I was born and raised where my family was there where my my my wife was there. It’s all almost the entire family was in a different city. So the second best decision I made was to move to back to my city. But the problem with me moving back to my city where I was born is there are not a lot of technology companies out there. You know there was only very few I still remember those days when I I found an opportunity with this company called extero I prepared myself then then most of my days during my. My school or college preparing for my board exam I prepared it more because I that was like a bull’s eye I got to get the job. So I that’s how I ended up going back toor with that job as ah as a lead business analyst and and by the time I quit I became ah a director for the product management team.
Ganesh Shankar: External is what brought me to the Us. So we we’ll talk about that that to the journey that I I pivoted from ah from a financial services to technology and here we are I’m running ah in our software company. So.
Alejandro Cremades: So let’s talk about responsive. You know what point does the idea of responsive come knocking to you and why did you think you know it made sense to really take the leap of faith with responsive.
Ganesh Shankar: As you say got no container. Great question alexandro ah, I’ve said this before I’m saying it again. I don’t have any cool garage stories like Apple or Google or or domroom stories like you know Facebook or snapchat and a bunch of friends came under our you know? ah That’s not the case at all. This is a true story where you know myself I was working at external um similarly my 2 other co-founders Shankar and Sundar are all working there so we had an opportunity to work together. The problem is I was a product manager. I’m I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the term ah Rfp request for proposals and most of the deals they have to go through the Rfp and the enterprise software sales process happens. So the sellers theycon execute with the enterprise aeg when they get an ah rfp they will. They will immediately throw out my desk to complete anything related to product. Soon that my current cto gets anything related to technology Shankar was the implementation manager that he gets all related to implementation training. But like I said I was there for 9 years in that company. Never once my boss called me and said hey gunsh you did a fantastic ah rfpm going to give your pay let alone I never even had.
Ganesh Shankar: Word ah rfp mentioned in my job description or a kpi in all those nine years still I have to do that work because it is the breadwinner for the company I either remember I estimated close to about 30% of my time as a product manager was spent. On cell support activities supporting Rfp supporting security questionaire supporting these theme which kind of hindered my primary job which is product management right? You know you’re talking about release management. You know, competitive analysis that was not happening I remember spending sometimes weekends to complete an rfp because if we did not get it time. You’ll never get a second chance to bid on an ah rfp so you you will be either disqualified if you’re not submitting so it is a lot of time pressure lot of you know dread and dread you know dreadfulness for me that is kind of what prompted me to look into the market along with sun and shaankar to see if there’s any technology out there. That can solve our day-to-day problem not to to venture into a startup. This is truly to is there anything that I can implement in my job so that I can focus on my primate and job so that is how it all started.
Alejandro Cremades: And now for the people that are listening to get it. What ended up being the business model of responsive. How do you guys make money.
Ganesh Shankar: Responsive is a fully cloud-based saas solution that enables companies to respond to all sort of but although we started with Rp but today we saw many different use cases like Rfp rfi security question is esg questioners. Even some we have some non-profit organization use the platform for Grantw writing. So basically the hey the platform is 100 % saas-based technology that helps you to respond to any sort of inquiries that you’re getting from the outside stakeholders. We we charged by based on there different factors going into you know, finalizing a price one is. How many projects that you need and how many userss will we in the system plus integration that you need because it is not going to happen in a silo you you may need this to be integrated with your salesforce or a crm um platform it may need to be integrated with your communication platform like slacks and teames it may need to be integrated with the security platform or content manager. Different elements that goes into play but basically at a very high level if you have to if you want if you wanted to call it out based on number of projects users and integration points that you need if we moized. So.
Alejandro Cremades: So so date how much has the company raised from investors. Okay.
Ganesh Shankar: So we officially raised about $25000000 back in 2018 and that is our official raise and we have a very clean cap table and but before that we have raised couple of million dollars you know in the early stages when we started off the company I was living paycheck pay I paycheck I wish I had more money and I wish I invested more into this business know though you know we race early on in in the the journey what we did when we brought in more serious investor who was k one at at the juncture of 2018. We were technically not a pd we brought in a pe and even more so. The ask from us was not to fuel the the the growth of the company and we did not need fun. Fun. We. Are we at that point of time I’m I’m still true. That’s the case we still call o ourselves in a very problem. We are truly customer-funded business alandro. Even today we we we rely on customer billings than investor or even the the operator’s money so when we did the transaction Twenty Eighteen they asked from us to is to clean up the cap table of investors who are in the early part of our journey so we still I think we still hold the record of giving the most rate of return for ah you know. Period of just thirteen months for the early investors. Um you know and we cleaned up 1111 investors and we know a very clean capital. We have only 1 investor in our business and they hold a minority position in our business which is k one.
Alejandro Cremades: Now 1 thing that is really incredible is that I mean you guys have built a really meaningful business with no so not not such ah, a big amount of money you know I mean Twenty Five Twenty seven million for what you build is remarkable I mean why? why didn’t you raise more? Why did you? only. Raise this a specific amount.
Ganesh Shankar: Yeah, we the the founding team truly believes in creating a sustainable and generational business I know we we don’t have the mindset of you know growth at any cost and Burn Burn Burn is not the way we we see business. We truly believe businesses need to be sustainable businesses and you know. You know needs to be in ah in a position where it um it it can weather through some of the economic challenges that we are going through even now right? You know that is been. That’s how I’ve grown. Maybe it bought the risk the the way I was you know, brought up. It mostly pretty much everything that we I had to deal with in much early early childhood was ca city like what do you have maximize it. What do you get maximize. It. So that’s how and very similar stories sooner I’m shaankka as they you know we want to maximize and I believe that mentality and we got a little amount of capital. Maximize it at the time when we maximize this customer started coming in. We now have almost 2000 customers that includes twenty five of Fortune hundred companies you know if you take the losers largest hundred company 25 of them now rely on responsive for their response management needs. So um, it did not happen accidentally but we we we we were very thoughtful in how we we want to spend at the same time we did not also compromise on growth. We said we you know when I say we did not grow at any cost but we did grow at and and a healthy cliff. You know we are you know.
Ganesh Shankar: When we started in 2015 launched a product in 2016 you know by first customer paying signing off, they were less than 10 employees Today. We have 2000 customers. We have 500 and almost we are 550 employees worldwide we are in 3 different continents and serving customers across the globe. So and we have. Almost, we are approaching um, 450000 users in the platform. That’s not it 1 other important thing you know I was literally coming off of my company kickoff we had to you know plot some cumulative data till date. Our platform has processed. Almost $500000000000 worth of transaction. Our customers have put the system in place for almost $500000000000 worth of proposals and and deals that they manage in our platform. So it’s an ah you know, looking at last year just average. It’s about 10 to 15 Billion dollars every single month customers have processed deals in our platform. But.
Alejandro Cremades: That’s Amazing. You know one thing that is true is that the amount of capital that you guys have raised and where you’re at I mean typically you would see a company that maybe has raised in the hundreds of millions for you know, being able to achieve where you guys are at so that is absolutely Remarkable. You know how you were able to do what you did. You know with the resources that you had available to you Guys. So kudos to you and and to the team I Guess you know in this regard to when you’re bringing on employees when you’re bringing on also investors or even customers. You know I think that they are They are all rallying towards a vision. So. When it comes to the vision Imagine you were to go to sleep tonight and you wake up in a world where the vision of responsive is fully realized what does that world look like.
Ganesh Shankar: It’s very simple alexandro the vision is to transform how organizations share and exchange information. Okay, how are these companies. exchangeing information sharing information is what our vision is in an ideal world if we achieve the vision every company in the world request and respond in our platform. So our our mission is to build the world’s most powerful information exchange platform. Help the request the request could be anything. It could be ah rfp. It could be a grant or trying to issue a grant. You know the responders are trying to so the the idea is to help them transform the way they are requesting and responding to their information that is but. Eliminating the need for standardone documents. You don’t need to send them standone documents to fill out the forms it all happens in a unified platform that is a vision. The vision is to transform how organizations share and exchange information and.
Alejandro Cremades: And now what about to the the way that you guys have ah been able to build the team. You know of people that you have built because I know that you are very careful. There. You know about thinking about the senior executive team and and things like that. So. What were some of the lessons you know along the journey of building the team that that you took away you know from from this incredible 8 years of building this company.
Ganesh Shankar: Yeah, and again, 1 thing if I call we we still probably have the first 50 of our employees. You know again, the the people who joined us in the early stages. They’re still with the company. You know, be it engineers but hit you know sales be. Be it marketing be it. You know customer success. We still have that group of something you know again, it is not um, ah something ah because we did something you know, ah completely out of out of auto ofbox I feel like the main reason this has happened is. We. We had a very clear vision and we had a very solid company culture. This defined by these 5 values of aandro we we buy hearted every employee goes through this ah orientation and as well as it’s not just during the time of onboarding you get topose you get exposed to these value. It is practically. Being done in everything that is being done at responsive the first value we call it as g id get it done our attitude from the very get go is how can we get things done not pass the baton if you can do it. You should do it. Don’t wait for someone else to do it. Don’t don’t wait for. Someone else who take care of it if you see you know if you can get things done, get it. Um, that’s the first world. That’s the culture you start with me and everything can be. You know if we can do it. Let’s do it. The second value we call it as an s four s 4 stands for see something say something.
Ganesh Shankar: This came out of my my personal experience when I you know you rocked talk to me about my my arrival to the to this country I I landed at seatiatle airport for the first time I I was kept hearing this pa announcement people were saying hey if you see an unattended bag say in the at the air airport in seatiatle tacomma airport. People are constantly repeating if you see an unattended back say I felt why only it should be at the airport. It has to be at everywhere if if collective brains come together and if they share what they see if they share to improve. That’s an amazing culture. So we built an s four culture inside the organization. Third one is gbt giving back time. We don’t like to you know, sit and Mac around somebody’s time I don’t want my time to be wasted. It’s only fair for my employers to expect the same thing. It’s only fair for my customers to expect the same thing. It’s only fair for my investors to expect the same thing from me, let us not waste. Somebody’s time. Let us give back time. Fourth b a n be aile and nimble. This is came this came out of actually from our customer. They said we have never worked with a company who is so agile who can deliver things so quickly and faster. Please don’t lose the tegility so that became like a manra father company. We. We are known for our agility in the market in our space in the strategic response management space people. Everybody know how quick responsive is and in fact, when we when in the in the prior name if you look at our name prior to reponive. We had r fpi know.
Ganesh Shankar: That really reinated with the core use cases and we rebranded our name to our responsive when we rebranded our company. We took a step back and said okay, what are we? What are we looking at we wanted a name that reflects our characteristics so responsive when we finalize it immediately country because we’ve been responsive from day one. That is ah in our value be each other nimble last but not least the last fifth value is a doc delight. Our customer anything that we do in our company got to be delighting our customers. They are the ones who are keeping our lights on we have to make sure they’re delighted not just getting something out of ours. It has to be a delightful experience. So that translated into an amazing employee experience that we provided and for that reason I I think I think that establishing core values and clearly communicating where the companies headed I felt like that those are some of the ingredients for us to wear. We are at today with this 550 plus employees. And we’ve been very transparent in what we do not just good things. We’ve been very transparent and things were tough when you know when things when we did not hit some some you know, aggressive things that we we set ourself. We were very transparent and we we said okay, we’ll we’ll find ways to do it. And I clearly see when we say that clear way I assign teams rally to get that things done and we caught it done. In fact that so twenty Twenty three first half was a little bit of a tougher year for most I’m sure. But overall if we look at 2023 was the best year in the company’s history.
Alejandro Cremades: So now imagine I put you into a time machine and I bring you back in time and I bring you back. Let’s say to that moment that you were you know at Extero you know and and wondering you know a future a future where you could bring something of your own a future where.
Ganesh Shankar: So um.
Alejandro Cremades: You could become on an entrepreneur. You know, let’s say 2015 you know, let’s just position this you’ve given your notice at Extero. You’re walking out of the building there in Portland Oregon and they you’re able to stop that younger gonna and you’re able to just sit down. That younger gonna and you say hey before you go and start this company. You got to keep this in mind but would that be and why that you’ll be sharing with your younger self.
Ganesh Shankar: So be humble. Don’t take it to your head Network Network Network and validate. It’s okay to say no pivot at the right time.
Alejandro Cremades: I Love it. Can ish for the people that are listening that they will love to reach out and say hi where is the best way for them to do so okay.
Ganesh Shankar: Yeah, our website would be the best way www.responsive.io would be the best way to reach to us. So.
Alejandro Cremades: Amazing. Well Ganna thank you so much for being on the deal maker show today. It has been on honor to have you with us.
Ganesh Shankar: Thank you? Ah John Rob was a great pleasure on mine at my site. Thanks for having me. It was a great privilege to be on your show.
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