Keep Attacking the Same Problem—but with Multiple Solutions
Interview with Greendeck Co-founders Aayush Jain & Aditya Joshi
For most startups, creating one product, finding the right market for it, and turning it into a profitable business is hard enough. But what if you were doing the same thing simultaneously with two different products? That’s the challenge for the co-founders of Greendeck, who created a price optimization engine for retailers and are now working on a platform called Cliff.ai that tracks all business metrics. Fortunately, all three of Greendeck’s co-founders are developers with a passion for building products that make an impact.
Greendeck CEO Aayush Jain and COO Aditya Joshi are Roland’s guests on this week’s Silicon Valley Momentum Podcast. They discuss the roots of their co-founder partnership, the unique journey from an India-based healthcare company to a startup that serves European fashion retailers, and all of the challenges they’ve met along the way:
- How learning from customers can be helpful in finding your niche.
- How three co-founders with similar backgrounds each found their right role to play.
- Why experimenting and learning from mistakes is such a critical part of finding the right answer.
- The challenge of managing two products that have a different go-to-market approach.
- How just showing up every day and being persistent will eventually lead to success.
Roland Siebelink: Hello and welcome to the Silicon Valley Momentum Podcast. My name is Roland Siebelink and I am a scaleup coach and ally for tech founders. I am very excited today, very excited because our interview goes all the way to Indore, Madhya Pradesh in India, where joining me are the CEO and co-founder and COO and co-founder of Greendeck, Aayush Jain and Aditya Joshi. Welcome. Guys.
Aditya Joshi: Hey Roland. Hi, thanks so much for having us.
Roland Siebelink: Absolutely. Aayush, Tell us, what does Greendeck do? Who do you help with what product?
Aayush Jain: Sure. Greendeck is basically a price optimization engine for retailers. We help retailers optimize their pricing and promotions using AI. This is in a nutshell what we do. And we are working on this cool new product called cliff.ai, which is a platform that allows businesses to track all of their business metrics automatically and identify any issues that occur in that.
Roland Siebelink: Oh, wow. That sounds very compelling. We’ll have to talk through two products a little bit more. It started with the price optimization engine for retailers, as I think you said, right? What retailers, in particular, are you targeting with that because the retail world’s really big, right?
Aayush Jain: Absolutely. Just to give you a little bit of context, when we started this company, we started this company with one singular idea, the pricing in most of the companies in 2020 itself is primarily driven by human-based decisions and it’s not data driven. And we found there has to be a better way of doing that. And that’s with the idea we started this company.
During our journey of finding the right fit in terms of the customers that we would want to target, our journey has converged into a very specific segment of customers that we’re targeting. And that segment is online fashion retailers who are selling directly to the customers and who have to make pricing decisions about hundreds and thousands of products that they have in stock. That’s the primary customer target we are targeting.
Roland Siebelink: Oh, wow. That’s really, really specific. And I like that because so many startups have trouble confining themselves to a very specific segment. But I always tell them, “If you can, then you will do a much better job for these customers.” Has that been your experience as well?
Aayush Jain: Absolutely. If you’re able to truly define your niche and able to truly narrow down your customer segment, it helps you communicate your messaging very clearly, and it’s obviously very helpful. But at the same time, it’s a tough thing; as a founder, it is really difficult to narrow down to a specific segment of customer because you are always very afraid of, “Are you narrowing yourself down to a specific niche?” And is the opportunity in that niche big enough for you to be able to grow very quickly in that? It’s a very challenging thing.
But what I believe is that this is something that eventually happens. When you start observing your customers and when you start learning from your customer, you start to see a trend that these are the specific group of people who are using your product the most. These are the specific group of people who are getting the maximum value out of it. And that’s probably what becomes your niche.
Roland Siebelink: Excellent. Very good. I’ll love to talk a lot more about the go-to market that you guys are developing. But maybe before that, Aditya, let’s hear from you. What’s been the history of Greendeck? How did you guys get together and start this company?
Aditya Joshi: The history is pretty interesting. All of us co-founders, we’ve been together since university. That’s basically 2010. We spent five years in rooms, one next to the other. Back then, we used to pick up some projects, some really small projects based on Android programming and web development. And it all started there.
Aayush Jain: This is back then when Android was just a camera operating system. This is those days.
Roland Siebelink: Very, very early on. It’s good to be at the early stage of a new wave, right?
Aditya Joshi: Yes, for sure. That’s when we were just tinkering around with some projects. And there was this - there’s a TV show in India which highlights a lot of social problems. The show is called ‘Satyamev Jayate’, which means “the truth shall always triumph.” There was a particular show, which is called, “Does healthcare need healing?” It brought about some really interesting topics. For example, there’s this thing called generic medicines. What they are is basically you have a lot of brands producing medicines, and then you have these unbranded generic medicines, which are the same ingredient, the same dosage, the same everything. But they’re cheaper, and they’re cheaper because there’s no marketing cost. India is one of the world’s leading manufacturers and exporters of generic medicines. But there’s probably negligible prescriptions of generic medicines within India.
There’s something which is very surprising for us because that is the first time we actually heard about generic medicines. Because you’ve always been - as a patient, we’ve never been prescribed anything generic. There was this one particular person who was creating a lot of buzz around this whole problem. And we reached out to him and he was excited to see a bunch of college kids finding the problem interesting. And then we launched a website where we could - any user could just enter any medicine name and we would provide the list of the exact same generic medicine or cheaper-branded substitute. We obviously just wanted to spread awareness. It was a very not-for-profit project that we undertook.
Aditya Joshi: Soon after this - we had no commercial aspect to this right now. And we graduated, we each got our own job. But then I guess less than a year into our job, we had this feeling that, “Why not start something of our own?” We had started this thing in generic medicine, why not take it one step further? We got together and we started a healthcare company in India.
We wanted to have - healthcare in India is pretty fragmented and it has a lot of physical records and paperwork involved. We wanted to see if we could change that. We had ideas around prescriptions and electronic health records and all these things. With that in mind, we started a digital healthcare company. This was in 2016, and eventually in 2017, it got acquired by a large company in India.
Aayush Jain: Soon after that, we said now we can’t go back to doing any other job. Once you have that entrepreneurial bug, you can’t just go back to a job.
Roland Siebelink: Spoiled forever, right?
Aayush Jain: Spoiled forever. And that’s when we wanted to keep doing things together. We worked on some different projects here and there. And then eventually, we started with this whole idea of Greendeck.
Roland Siebelink: Okay, very cool. How did you move then from an initial focus on the healthcare space with two separate projects or startups, if you will, then suddenly into price optimization for fashion retailers?
Aayush Jain: Actually, the good reason for that is all three of us, we come from a strong technology background. We are developers at heart. We are coders at heart. For us, the far more important thing is to be able to - instead of ideas, our passion is in building technologies that can actually make an impact. We are idea agnostic. We were in that mindset where we were idea agnostic. But as long as we are able to build some products that people want to use, that’s where our passion lies. That’s how we - exploring ideas and that’s how we got into this whole idea of Greendeck and price optimization.
Roland Siebelink: Oh, that’s very cool. Since you all have the same backgrounds, you two and then I think Yashvardhan is the third co-founder, is that correct? Okay. Very cool. But if you all have the technical background, then how did you decide to divide the work between the three of you? Are you all doing the same things, whatever needs fixing, or have you guys gotten to clearly defined roles?
Aayush Jain: Actually, this is a very, very good question. And this is something that a lot of early-stage founders struggle with in terms of how do you divide the responsibilities and how do you define the roles? I think so for us, this thing happened naturally. How it started is initially everyone would call or everyone would get on a call with the customers. If you were going to meet an investor - that time, we were actually four co-founders. If you were meeting any investor, you can imagine there would be just one investor guy sitting there and four of us coming into that meeting.
Roland Siebelink: Not ideal anymore, right?
Aayush Jain: At that time, initially when we started, we had no segregation of roles and responsibilities. But what happened is, because of our personal dynamics, eventually, we were able to figure out each individual’s strong points. For example, Yash was super, super good with technology, so he eventually morphed into a CTO role. Then I was the guy who has passion for products and design, so I can move into a product role.
Roland Siebelink: I think the old adage is that a good three person co-founder team is a hacker, a hustler, and a hipster. How would you apply that to the three of you?
Aayush Jain: This is so true because I would resonate myself with a hustler kind of a guy. Then you have Yash who is like a hacker who can hack into things. He’s good at technology and all those kinds of things. And Aditya is a pure hipster. You can look at his hairstyle. He was the lead guitarist of our college band as well. He’s definitely that stuff.
Roland Siebelink: That’s awesome. They could have written this for you guys, it sounds like. That’s really cool. Excellent. Okay. What was the success with that price optimization engine? How much traction did you get? Where have you landed so far?
Aayush Jain: In terms of the traction, we have grown from a team of three co-founders to almost a 30-person team now. We have customers in seven different geographies right now. And the good thing is, although we raised funds last year, we are profitable. Just last month we hit the break-evens. Happy to let you know that at this point, we are profitable.
Roland Siebelink: Let’s come back to that investor round a little bit. You said that was last year and I think you had that with the lead from RLC ventures, is that right?
What was the fundraising like for you guys? Was this a long slog or were you able to pull this together pretty quickly? I’m Just always interested to hear the experience and so are our listeners?
Aayush Jain: Actually, our fundraising experience is actually quite different from what you would hear from other co-founders. Just to give you a little bit of a context, we started this company in India and then in 2017, we got selected into the Techstars accelerator program in Berlin. We all moved to Berlin for around six months. And then we moved back to India. And when we moved back to India, we very soon realized that our customers are in Europe and we have to be in Europe.
Roland Siebelink: What was the experience in Techstars like? We’ve had a few startups on this podcast that went through the Y Combinator program. Techstars is also very famous, of course. I’d love to hear a little bit from you, how did you experience that?
Aditya Joshi: I think the experience was really good because in many ways, it was the turning point for us. Because as we know now, our entire customer base and eventually the investors that we met and most of our network is in Europe. And it all started with Techstars. As a program, I think there are some really good things about Techstars. They have, I would say, not a curriculum, but the things they teach you are very practical.
For example, the whole process of learning and experimenting. As founders founded like everyone else, we’re all trying to do something for the first time. It’s hard for us to get something right the first time. With the program, you can actually learn that, okay, that’s how it is supposed to be. And the only way to actually progress is keep trying, keep learning from mistakes, and then try again with the changes that you feel are necessary.
The concept of experimenting and learning constantly, that mindset was put into place during the program. And, of course, one of the best assets is the network that it provides. It’s a global community and they have people everywhere. They have mentors, investors, other entrepreneurs, people in whichever industry you are looking to get connected with, there will be some contacts who are part of that community or know someone who is part of the community. A lot of things become very easy if it goes through introductions. The network also has been really important for us, I would say.
Roland Siebelink: Awesome. Very cool. That maybe brings us a little bit to the go-to market side. Aayush, is your entire go-to market built on introductions through Techstars or have you moved beyond that a little bit?
Aayush Jain: Definitely. During our starting phase, the only way we could probably get in front of our customers was just through our network of Techstars. We got our very first customer - I still remember this - our first customer was this company called Casper Mattresses, which is like a global -
Roland Siebelink: I sleep on their products, so yes.
Aayush Jain: Casper mattress was one who was one of our first customers. And we got them when we were just in the very early stages of our product. Our product was not even polished. And we were able to get them as a customer only because there was one mentor who was very close friends with some guys at Casper. These are the kind of introductions that give a company momentum. We got a couple of customers through the Techstars network and then we figured out - through those early customers, we were able to figure out our value proposition and even were able to start building our own customer acquisition channels beyond a warm introduction. But again, Techstars was that catalyst which allowed us to do that.
Roland Siebelink: A lot of the founders listening to this podcast really struggle with that point. How do you move beyond the first close friends or network to more of a scalable go-to market? What did you guys try? And what did you figure out works for you?
Aayush Jain: We tried tons of things. In the very early stage, I think the biggest thing that helped us is obviously the warm introductions. And then if you want to move a little bit further from that, there is one more thing that truly helped us out is there are a lot of corporate accelerator programs that are out there, which are equity free and give startups a chance to just stand in front of relevant stakeholders within an organization. And that also worked for us. We got a couple of customers just through participating in some corporate innovation programs.
That was a progression from warm introductions to something which is in the middle of a sales process and introduction. And then eventually, last year we hired our first sales leader last year. He came from a very experienced background of leading a sales engine at a big organization. He came in with that experience and he helped us establish a lot of processes and the engine behind generating an outbound sales engine.
That’s how we started doing it. It’s a journey. There is no one-size-fits-all solution for everyone. And I think one of the key things that our business has to realize is what has to be their approach in terms of getting those customers. And what do I mean by this is basically if I take the example of Greendeck versus Cliff.ai, these are two SaaS products. But the go-to-market strategy for both of these products are worlds apart.
With Greendeck, it’s a top-down approach where you try to find some people who are at a management level or at the top of the hierarchy. And then you try to sell your value proposition to them. And it flows down to the organization. On the contrary, with Cliff.ai, we have a bottom-up approach. Cliff.ai is a platform where any person can just sign up, start using it, and slowly, slowly increase the adoption within an organization. And the approach for go to market for both of these strategies are completely different. With Greendeck, it is completely outbound. With Cliff.ai, it is completely inbound. We are not focusing on any outbound sales or cold emails on Cliff.ai. Figuring out what business model works for your go-to-market strategy, that is the most important part to be able to make that decision on how do you want to approach that.
Roland Siebelink: How do you manage, Aditya, two products in the same company where it sounds like the synergies are maybe not all that clear, right? It’s different target groups, different technologies to some degree. Am I missing something or is it just harder to manage those two products in the same company?
Aditya Joshi: You’re definitely right that the mindset is completely different. The approach is different. In terms of managing the products, I think Aayush can tell you better, but we really need to ramp up our hiring. In terms of approach and mindset, for sure, it’s completely different. I think Aayush should tell a little bit.
Aayush Jain: Just, just to add to what Aditya said, managing through different products, it’s challenging from all aspects of the product, right from the product to engineering to your sales and marketing teams. This is something that is difficult for us right now. It’s almost 12:30 in the night and we haven’t wrapped up our work. It’s challenging. But I think what we would do is - the one thing that we were able to do very well is we were able to leverage the engineering, the common engineering, between both products. We were able to reuse a lot of our engineering components for both of those products that allowed us to build this product so quickly. And eventually, what we would want to do is we want to have - we would want to separate teams for both of those products.
Roland Siebelink: Might I just add to the listeners, if like me, you feel that it’s amazing how much energy comes from this podcast, now think that it’s already past midnight there and they’re still showing off all that energy in this podcast. That is amazing and really inspiring.
I’m going to ask this question to both of you, maybe starting with Aditya and then coming back to Aayush. What is the most important learning you’ve had as an entrepreneur, as a founder so far that you’d like to pass on to other people that are working on their own startups? Aditya, let’s go with you first.
Aditya Joshi: For me, I think it’s very simple. It’s just keep doing what you’re doing, perseverance. Everyone can be wrong all the time, but it’s just a matter of if you keep attacking the same problem with different solutions multiple times, you will be right sometime or the other. A series of rights will then eventually lead to success. For me, just to be perseverant. Just persevere and keep doing what you’re doing.
Roland Siebelink: But in different ways, it sounds like you were saying, right? If one way is not working, try a different way. Okay. Very good. Otherwise, we would get close to the definition of insanity, which might be close to the definition of a founder. But that’s a different discussion, right?
Aayush, what about you? What’s the most important lesson you would like to impart on other founders?
Aayush Jain: As a founder, every day you start, you have a new lesson, right? It’s very difficult for me to pick one lesson. But I completely agree with Aditya in terms of just showing up. I think that is the biggest thing. Just show up daily, every morning, wake up, and just show up to work. Eventually, you will make it. No matter what idea you’re working on, no matter how talented or non-talented you are, even if you show up every single day, you will make it. There is no doubt.
Roland Siebelink: Okay. Very, very good advice. Last question, again, for both of you. People listening to this podcast, what can they help you with most? What would you like them to do? Aditya, let’s go with you first again.
Aditya Joshi: If you’re interested in the space that we are creating, because we truly, very strongly believe that this is a genuine problem. And people like us, people who are running a part of smaller SaaS companies, they need this or they feel that this is something is interesting for them, I’d love to connect with them and share ideas. There’s so much to learn and everyone has had such different experiences and everyone comes with different points of view. I guess sharing ideas about this common space itself will be a very important input for us.
Roland Siebelink: Excellent. Okay. And if people want an introduction, then of course, I’m also happy to provide introductions to both Aayush and Aditya. What about you, Aayush? What do you want people to do? Do you want them to sign up for something? Do You want them to apply for jobs? What’s the big thing?
Aayush Jain: For me, if anyone who’s listening to this podcast and if you find yourself using a lot of dashboards in your work on a daily basis, it’s the right time for you to reevaluate: is looking at the dashboards the right thing? We are building something to replace or augment those dashboards in your organization. And the website is www.Cliff.ai. We have opened up for beta requests, beta invites right now. Please go to the website and sign up for a beta request.
Roland Siebelink: Very cool. Very cool. And I will be the first to do so right after this recording, so that hopefully I can still say something by the time the podcast comes out
Thank you so much for joining today, Aayush Jain and Aditya Joshi from Greendeck, as well as Cliff.ai. This has been an amazing podcast. Thank you for taking the time out of your early night even to do this recording. And I’m looking forward to meeting you in person after this pandemic over.
Aayush Jain: Absolutely. And it’s a pleasure. Thank you very much.
Aditya Joshi: Yes. Thank you so much, Roland.
Roland Siebelink: Thank you guys.
Roland Siebelink talks all things tech startup and bring you interviews with tech cofounders across the world.