Neil Patel

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In the bustling world of tech startups, stories of perseverance, innovation, and global impact abound. Today, we dive into the inspiring journey of Rob Gonzalez, co-founder of Salsify, a trailblazing enterprise software company revolutionizing product experience management.

From humble beginnings to scaling heights in the tech industry, Rob’s story is one of resilience, vision, and relentless pursuit of excellence. In this exclusive interview, Rob talks about his experiences with building Salsify, which has raised over $450M and has a workforce of over 500 employees.

Listen to the full podcast episode and review the transcript here.

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Early Beginnings: From Refugee Origins to Tech Enthusiast

Rob’s roots trace back to a poignant chapter in Cuban-American history. His father, a Cuban refugee, and his mother, a native of New England, met under serendipitous circumstances at the Financial Management Leadership Program at GE Capital.

Their journey epitomizes the American dream — starting from scratch in a new country and building a prosperous life through hard work and determination in Connecticut. “Life growing up was fantastic,” Rob recalls. “My parents, a mixed marriage, exemplified resilience and grit, values that shaped my outlook profoundly.”

Rob’s grandfather’s escape from Cuba during Castro’s regime left an indelible mark. “It’s the largest child refugee migration in the Western hemisphere,” Rob explains. “Many children were separated from their parents indefinitely.”

These early experiences instilled in Rob a deep appreciation for the opportunities America offers and a drive to make a meaningful impact. Despite a tough childhood, Rob’s father grew up to become the chief risk officer for GE Capital EMEA.

By the end of his career, he was working in the senior executive band of GE Capital, the biggest financial institution at the time. Stories like these instilled in Rob values of resilience and commitment to working hard.

During his growing years, Rob’s family moved around and even stayed in London for a while. They relocated to the US when Rob was in the seventh grade, which involved a period of adjustment.

Passion Ignited: From Early Tech Enthusiast to IBM Engineer

In the UK, Rob was part of the advanced math program and spent time on the Apple system in school, doing math and playing games. After moving to the US, he convinced his dad to get an IBM PC. That was his gateway to programming, a skill he honed through self-study and sheer passion.

Rob took programming lessons over the summer and learned anything about computers that he could get his hands on. He scoured Barnes & Noble for magazines and books to expand his knowledge.

This passion led Rob to Williams College, where he pursued Computer Science and Mathematics. He embarked on a career at IBM, initially as a software engineer, after graduation. Much of his job description was around the research aspect.

Rob remembers how he could see that the proofs of concept and other things they created at IBM would never see the light of day. His desire to see tangible impact and user engagement prompted a pivotal career shift.

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Transition to Product Management at Endeca

The stars aligned when Rob and co-founders Jeremy Redburn and Jason Purcell saw an opportunity. At the time, Jeremy was working at Endeca, and Jason was taking over the product management organization.

Jason offered Rob a job as a product manager, which was unlike his experience at IBM in the research group. At Endeca, they hired people based on pure intellectual bandwidth, and if they passed the IQ test, they could get a job there.

This strategy led to them hiring an absolutely brilliant set of people. Rob successfully passed the IQ test even though he didn’t know what product management was. He went on to product marketing, eventually to sales engineering, and then sales marketing.

Entrepreneurship: The Birth of Salsify

The entrepreneurial spirit was always alive in Rob. “In the ’90s, startups fascinated me,” Rob recalls. “I always wanted to start a company but didn’t know where to begin.”

Back in the early 2000s, starting a company involved a lot of investment since the concept of cloud computing had not yet been developed.

Rob would have had to purchase all the hardware needed to start a software tech company. And then. Oracle purchased Endeca for $1.1B in 2011. Cloud computing also arrived, and since Jeremy and Jason were transitioning out of Endeca, they were ready to start a new company.

Salsify was born out of the growing need for brands to effectively manage and optimize product content across multiple channels. “We envisioned Salsify as a platform that empowers brands to excel in e-commerce,” Rob explains.

Salsify is an enterprise SaaS company charging annual and an increasingly multi-year license fee for the usage of the software. Essentially, Rob and his co-founders have created the category of product experience management.

Salsify is a product that manages all content and data related to products and then syndicates those products into the market. Their customers are brands like L’Oreal, Coca-Cola, and other major corporations that market their products to different retailers. But also sell them directly.

They have D2C commerce sites powered by eCommerce tools like Shopify, Salesforce, or Commerce Cloud, and they also have product detail pages on Amazon, Walmart, Target, Kroger, and other stores. The big brands need to set up, maintain, and optimize content pages on all these sites.

That’s where Salsify comes in–by letting them manage their content internally and get it to retailers like Walmart and Kroger. The goal is to optimize product visibility and conversion rates across major retailers. In short, it is a world of retail search engine optimization.

Overcoming Challenges: From Struggle to Breakthrough

The early years of Salsify were grueling. “The first two years were a grind,” Rob admits. “E-commerce wasn’t a priority for many brands back then.”

The person managing Amazon for a top 100 CPG company was just some junior person in a basement somewhere that rolled into the sales organization, and nobody really paid attention to what they were doing.

Further, companies did not have the budget to spend on software. Even so, Rob and his co-founders raised a $8M series A funding round in 2013 despite not having much market traction. They did have full faith in their founding team and in the direction of the market.

However, a pivotal moment in 2014 transformed their trajectory. Rob conceded that if they had tried to build Salsify at any other time, it would never have worked.

Major retailers like Walmart and Macy’s began mandating improved product content from suppliers, propelling Salsify into prominence. They demanded that manufacturers and brands provide images for the product detail page, a product title, and some description that they can use for e-commerce,

“The market conditions shifted overnight,” Rob recalls. “We went from struggling to meet targets to rapid growth.”

Raising Funding for Salsify

Salsify also went on to raise $450M in funding. Rob explains that since their days at Endeca, they had always had robust relationships with venture capitalists. As a result, Rob and his co-founders had multiple competing term sheets.

Investors were confident that it was going to be a big market and was going to support an IPO-scale business. The series A round worked well and was co-led by Michael Skok and David Skok, who had invested in Demand, Acquia, and HubSpot, among others.

Rob, Jason, and Jeremy were doing well in Boston, which has a dynamic tech industry. For their series B round, Rob and Jason went to the West Coast with the objective of approaching investors for money and having a Silicon Valley member on their board.

Despite their best efforts, they were unsuccessful primarily because of the lack of a network component. Ultimately, the B round was led by Mike Terrell from Venrock, and it worked out extremely well.

However, the experience taught them important lessons about networking and approaching familiar entities who knew their value proposition.

Storytelling is everything that Rob Gonzalez was able to master. Being able to capture the essence of what you are doing in 15 to 20 slides is the key.

For a winning deck, take a look at the pitch deck template created by Silicon Valley legend Peter Thiel (see it here), where the most critical slides are highlighted.

Remember to unlock the pitch deck template that is being used by founders around the world to raise millions below.

Scaling New Heights: Vision for the Future

Today, Salsify stands as a leader in product experience management, with a global footprint and over 500 employees. Rob asserts that Salsify’s aim is to be the global system of record for product data, empowering manufacturers and retailers alike.

Rob envisions a future where Salsify’s platform seamlessly integrates with every major manufacturer and retailer worldwide.

The goal is to facilitate seamless product data exchange across the supply chain. This network-centric approach is crucial for enhancing product visibility and consumer engagement.

Conclusion: A Legacy of Innovation and Impact

Rob Gonzalez’s journey from a Cuban-American refugee family to co-founding Salsify showcases the resilience and ingenuity synonymous with the tech industry’s best. His story underscores the transformative power of entrepreneurship and the limitless possibilities of the American dream.

As Salsify continues to innovate and expand its global footprint, Rob remains committed to driving positive change in the e-commerce landscape. His vision and determination inspire aspiring entrepreneurs and industry leaders alike to pursue their dreams relentlessly.

In a world where technology shapes the future, Rob Gonzalez and Salsify stand as an example of the transformative impact of vision, perseverance, and unwavering commitment to excellence.

Listen to the full podcast episode to know more, including:

  • Rob’s family history, escaping Cuba and rebuilding in the US, exemplifies resilience and the pursuit of the American Dream.
  • Moving from engineering at IBM to product management at Endeca marked Rob’s shift towards impactful, customer-focused roles.
  • Inspired by market shifts in e-commerce, Salsify aimed to revolutionize product experience management for global brands.
  • Initial struggles in Salsify’s first years underscored the difficulty of selling e-commerce solutions pre-market recognition.
  • Salsify’s breakthrough came with retailer mandates in 2014, compelling suppliers to enhance their e-commerce capabilities.
  • Successful capital raises were built on early relationships with investors and understanding market trends over time.
  • Looking forward, Rob envisions Salsify as a global standard for product information management and distribution across major retailers.



For a winning deck, see the commentary on a pitch deck from an Uber competitor that has raised over $400M (see it here). 

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Neil Patel

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