We talked to Shridhar Marri, CEO & Co-founder of Senseforth.ai about running a business, contactless and here is what he said about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Shridhar Marri: My family and I have been doing well. Technology does make life easier as it has enabled us to stay connected with our loved ones, regardless of which part of the world they live in.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have preferred staying indoors and headed out only when necessary. We had also ventured out a few times to distribute food to the needy and underprivileged.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Senseforth.ai.
Shridhar Marri: My career has always been at the intersection of technology, design, and entrepreneurship. I have been extremely fortunate to get incredible opportunities along the way. A combination of D-school and B-school education definitely helped me navigate this intersection.
During my previous corporate stint as a Vice President at Infosys, I came across several challenges that swarmed large global enterprises. Existing frameworks and traditional solutions to those challenges never really worked beyond the surface level. Customer acquisition and customer engagement and customer support – everything was suboptimal. Digital Transformation projects usually spanned across years with marginal benefits. Enterprises missed the bus in understanding and engaging the new age customer.
I quit my job in 2012 and took the road less travelled. I co-founded Moonraft Innovation Labs – a technology + design company, along with my colleagues. Later I moved on to founding Senseforth.ai with my colleagues Krishna Kadiri and Ritesh Radhakrishnan. Senseforth.ai is a Conversational AI platform to transform businesses.
We have come a long way since then. Our Conversational AI platform is now patented in the United States as well as India, and we’ve been recognized by the likes of NASSCOM, the Wharton India Economic Forum, London & Partners, Forrestor, and Frost & Sullivan, to name a few. We were also recently named by Gartner as a “Cool Vendor in Conversational AI Platforms 2020”.
How does Senseforth.ai innovate?
Shridhar Marri: At Senseforth.ai, innovation culture is percolated across the company. We have an incredible team based out of Bengaluru, India, where all the innovation happens. They are the heart of the organization. We have also created a culture of openness, where everyone’s ideas are heard, debated, and the best ones implemented. This has certainly helped us stay ahead of the pack. We have consistently featured in the top 10 ranks of the global machine reading comprehension leaderboard SQuAD 2.0 by Stanford. We built an industry-leading NLP engine.
We have built a comprehensive Conversational AI platform that is globally benchmarked. We created a range of products to help enterprises drive top-line growth, engage customers, and reduce support costs. In recent months, we built multiple solutions to complement our clients’ digital transformation initiatives as they navigated their way through the pandemic. Some of these include Flyfish, the world’s first autonomous revenue generation platform, and an AI-powered Smart Search.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business, and how are you coping?
Shridhar Marri: Senseforth.ai is in the business of automating business processes using Conversational AI. Given the nature of our business, we were not badly affected by the coronavirus pandemic. Besides, it would not be wrong to say that the Conversational AI space witnessed an uptick as organizations worldwide began to accelerate their digital transformation efforts to keep up with the growing demand.
Our first step was to connect with our clients to see if there were ways of lending additional support during the crisis. This gave us a unique opportunity to build a host of use cases to help our clients become resilient in the face of the pandemic.
Apart from this, the most important step was to ensure our employees were okay. This was a situation nobody was ready for, and given that a lot of our employees stay away from their families, it was important for us to prioritize their well-being. Things have improved immensely since the lockdown was lifted in India, but we continue to work from home to ensure our employees aren’t exposed to the virus.
Did you have to make difficult choices, and what are the lessons learned?
Shridhar Marri: As an entrepreneur, you have to make difficult choices every day. Whether it is about launching a new product, changing your pricing model, or keeping employees engaged and happy in the midst of a global pandemic, life keeps throwing new challenges at you. This year, in particular, has been extraordinary in many ways, and I have learnt two major lessons:
- As a startup founder, employees are undoubtedly the heart of an organization. Without a strong and well-knit team, we wouldn’t be anywhere near where we are today. Happy employees certainly outperform, which results in happier customers.
- I also cannot emphasize enough the importance of listening to your clients and end-users. Some of the best features we have built are a result of what the end-users have been expecting from their favorite brands.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety?
Shridhar Marri: Stress and anxiety are a part of every entrepreneur’s life. The competition is fierce, and there is uncertainty at every corner. The most important thing for me is to focus on the present and not let uncertainty or doubt hamper my vision and decision-making capabilities. Despite the lockdown, I tried staying physically active and relied on various grounding techniques as well as meditation. This has enabled me to live in the present and ensured I don’t get carried away.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Shridhar Marri: We’re up against some really big and influential companies, who have no dearth of financial muscle. As a humble startup, our biggest weapon is innovation, enabling us to gauge the market faster and introduce products that help organizations stay relevant. The fact that some of the biggest brands in the world choose us as their technology partner is certainly a testament to this.
Your final thoughts?
Shridhar Marri: Customers today have high expectations from brands. In the face of the pandemic, only the global enterprises that can foresee these expectations will survive. Hyper scalable multi experiences are now the order of the day. Micro customization would become the most important feature of any product or service offering.
The second aspect is the business design itself. Organizations would now need to rearrange themselves automatically to suit markets, volatility, and customer needs. That means monolithic organizations will be dead and lego-like businesses that transform themselves on demand will pave the way for new organizational structures.
The third key issue is the new leadership skills that are required to inspire a globally distributed remote workforce. Also, we have to learn how to steer organizations across highly polarized ideologies in the face of social justice and economic equality issues around the world.
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