Interview: Swapnil Jain, Co-founder of Observe.AI

After completing an internship at Google and working as senior software engineer and leading a technical team at Twitter, Swapnil Jain decided to stake his own claim as a tech entrepreneur. With his business partners, he co-founded Observe.AI in 2017, which he now runs as CEO.

Under the leadership of Swapnil Jain, Observe.AI has become “the leader in AI-powered agent enablement for voice customer service.” In 2019, the company has raised $26 million after a Series A financing round led by Scale Venture Partners, joined by Nexus Venture Partners, Steadview Capital, 01 Advisors, and Emergent Ventures. With the funding, the company gained the ability to “expand its US-India team globally and accelerate product development.”

Swapnil Jain is poised to realize the amazing potential of Observe.AI because he knows that worldwide brands today have vastly different needs that his company could meet. He says, “Today’s customer service agents have a unique ability to emotionally connect with customers and are often a brand’s only frontline representatives.” Through his company, customer service agents will see their performance elevated “through AI-based coaching and insights.”

Also, thanks to Swapnil Jain’s guidance, Observe.AI has been accepted by Microsoft into its Startups program. In 2019, Observe.AI “has signed 100 customers and formed partnerships with leading organizations like Microsoft, Talkdesk, ERCBPO, and itelBPO.” Many leading brands also use Observe.AI, including “TripAdvisor, Concentrix, ClearMe, and Root Insurance.”

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Jerome Knyszewski: What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

Swapnil Jain: One thing that I believe stands out about Observe.AI is that we really understand the persona and culture we are building our company for. When people think about Silicon Valley, they tend to think of all the COOL stuff that people are building. We are building for a persona that many people in the Bay Area might not understand. Many people don’t even know what a call center is, or know a call center employee. We have a deep understanding of this persona based on all the background research we did in India and Manila. This makes us very unique. We believe that no one else in the Bay Area can match our depth of understanding of the people in the call centers and the problems they are facing.

Another thing that separates is that we do a very good job of taking care of our employees. Every company talks about culture, values, and people, but how can they show it? I personally believe that we are creating a place where everyone likes to work. This is evident from our Glassdoor reviews, what people say about us on LinkedIn and other social channels, as well as our attrition rates. You can verify that we are committed to our culture.

Jerome Knyszewski: Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Swapnil Jain: The CEOs main responsibility to enable others to operate the company with them, and to really represent the company’s values and culture. Regarding burnout, as a leader, you have to be conscious about it. If you’re not aware of burnout, you are not going to be able to empathize or try to solve for it.

My recommendation is to be in touch with your people. As you grow as CEO, and add the next layer of management, it’s very easy to lose touch with your people because you are only hearing from managers. You don’t want to be a CEO who lives in a bubble of what you think is happening in your company, as opposed to what is actually happening in your company. Make sure you take the time every week to talk to people, understand what they are working on, hear them out, get feedback. Your job is to listen.

Jerome Knyszewski: What would you advise to a business leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth and “restart their engines”?

Swapnil Jain: From a leadership perspective, always be learning. As a leader, your job is to listen more and speak less. My job is not to explain things to people. If you are stuck, go on calls and keep learning, understand their problems, talk to other CEOs and learn from them — the only way forward is to continue growing. That is the only way to scale. Look at Observe.AI. We went from 15 people to more than 120 this year. With that kind of growth, the meaning of leadership, how to organize the company, establish processes, and establish culture changes. You have to evolve.

From a business perspective, it’s important to get a philosophical understanding of why you are stuck. As the company grows, people have a hard time getting to the root of problems. Understand the why. Ask the questions.

Jerome Knyszewski: Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?

Swapnil Jain: A business is solving a problem a client has. With changes of economy, people’s needs change and evolve. You have to keep adapting to the clients’ needs. The buyer will always have needs. Either you will capture them or someone else will. When the market changes, needs change — can you cater to that? Does your product satisfy the new buyer needs? How soon can you adapt strategies, your go-to-market plan, product? For large companies, it takes a lot of time to adapt and realign. Startups are used to doing shorter-term planning, so surviving change is much easier.

Jerome Knyszewski: In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?

Swapnil Jain: Goals and alignment. If you can design goals for the leadership team and managers, in a way that aligns really well with the company goals, you can create an amazing growth engine with everyone working in the same direction. This can create so much momentum. It’s a simple concept, but very hard to execute because it requires having a company goal. How do you set a big goal and then roll it out to every single person in the company? Even after 1.5 years of trying to do goal setting and alignment, we are still working on this at Observe.AI. This is important because if you aren’t doing it, then you have people driving the company in different directions. Think of a car where the steering wheel and tires are going in a different direction. Will this car function? No. It’s the same with companies.

Jerome Knyszewski: Great customer service and great customer experience are essential to build a beloved brand and essential to be successful in general. In your experience what are a few of the most important things a business leader should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience?

Swapnil Jain: A lot of people confuse customer experience with customer service. Customer experience is not just the service you provide when the customer has a pain point. It’s about the experience the customer has every single time the customer interacts with any property of the company — sales, renewals, talking to the CEO, LinkedIn — every single touchpoint with a brand is customer experience. A very good example of this is Apple. Everything from launching a product, how they talk about it, the sales process, the in-store experience all ties back to their brand.

You can’t think about customer experience in silos. It is not just customer service. You should think of customer experience as a fabric that overlays every single touch point customers have with your brand. Use the framework of customer experience in every single interaction and not just customer service.

Jerome Knyszewski: What are your thoughts about how a company should be engaged on Social Media? For example, the advisory firm EisnerAmper conducted 6 yearly surveys of United States corporate boards, and directors reported that one of their most pressing concerns was reputational risk as a result of social media. Do you share this concern? We’d love to hear your thoughts about this.

Swapnil Jain: Social media reputation is one part of creating a trusted and reputable brand — it’s all part of your reputation. We are not a reactive brand on social media. We are more of a proactive brand, and we control our messaging and our brand identity. We believe this allows us to be more forthcoming. You need a social strategy, but as a company, Observe.AI doesn’t view this as a risk.

Jerome Knyszewski: What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?

Swapnil Jain: If you are a product founder, you like to focus on building a great product. If you are a go-to-market(GTM) founder, you focus on selling, sometimes before your product is ready. Both have huge flaws. With product founders, you might lose a lot of time if you don’t test the market — you could be building something in a silo. If you are a GTM founder, you might be selling things you don’t have or you will never build, essentially vaporware.

It’s a challenge as CEO to bridge the gap between both. There’s a great saying by Reid Hoffman that essentially says, “If you are not ashamed of your first product, then you are late to market.” Make sure you are testing your assumptions with customers.

In terms of advice, I would advise you to hire as needed, but not too early. One challenge with building teams is that the more you build and add on, the more dissolution of alignment you get. If you are bloated, the vision, alignment and execution gets harder. Align quickly and move fast.

It’s also important to understand your market really really well. Either you start with the idea that you want to start a company and need a market and an idea, or you are deeply in a market and want to use that insight to start a company. With the former, you have a hammer and are looking for a nail — it’s very easy to get excited about ideas. Do your research and your learning, and make sure you -understand the market and the problems and the personas before you commit.

Jerome Knyszewski: Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Swapnil Jain: If I tried to extrapolate what we are doing at Observe, I think a movement could be how corporations and business leaders can think about their employees and their workplace. Large corporations have a tendency to treat employees as people who are there to get a task done. If you use this framework, you will always look at people as resources and as resource optimization problems. I’m strongly against this. People spend a big part of their life in workplaces. If you are treated as a resource, this will not lead to a satisfactory or happy life. The movement I would like to push is around how corporations can start treating their people as people. How do we create an environment where these people can have a happy, satisfactory life? How can CEOs stop thinking of people as task masters? When you look at it through this lens, people say you are not thinking about profits or shareholders. I don’t think this is true. When people are happy, they are more productive, happier, more involved. They care more about the company, and they want to drive it’s growth.

Jerome Knyszewski: How can our readers further follow you online?

Swapnil Jain: You can learn more about Observe.AI on our website, or follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Jerome Knyszewski: This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!


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