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Ganesh Shankar, center, of RFPIO, participates on a panel with other business leaders during the Elevate Inclusion Summit in Portland. (Photo courtesy of RFPIO)

Earlier in his career, Ganesh Shankar found himself surrounded by inefficient request for proposal (RFP) processes and time-consuming delays that came with finalizing that work at the companies where he worked. Like any good entrepreneur, he set out to find a better way.

Shankar is the co-founder and CEO and of RFPIO, a Portland-based company working to improve the RFP response management process for organizations of all sizes. RFPIO uses cloud-based automation technology to help businesses increase their sales close rates and win more customer deals, and Shankar is our latest Geek of the Week.

PREVIOUSLY: RFP response automation software startup RFPIO raises $25 million

“Growing up in a working-class family, I was always fascinated by entrepreneurs who created opportunities for others,” Shankar said. “From a very young age, I had an entrepreneurial spirit. Upon reflection, it was not about the money it was mainly for the experience and feel.”

In pursuing his dream to become an entrepreneur, Shankar received his MBA in India and started as a salesperson working for a stock broking company. He then moved to a technology startup in the financial services domain as a product manager.

“As a product manager, I was spending 20 to 30 percent of my time responding to RFPs, which often seemed like repetitive work,” Shankar said. “It had a major impact on the time I was able to spend on my primary job. Compounding this, my product team was only one of five or six teams involved with each RFP process, which points to the magnitude of work time invested in every RFP.”

RFP became an especially buzzy term in the Pacific Northwest and across the country in 2017 when Amazon sought proposals from cities for where it should put a second headquarters, or HQ2. We couldn’t help but ask Shankar what he thought of HQ2 and RFPs — and what his startup and software might have contributed to the whole process.

“In the case of Amazon HQ2, it was interesting to see the cities respond to an RFP because that was a role-reversal — normally the cities are the ones who seek the RFP responses from vendors,” he said. “Because of the unusual nature of this RFP, I’m sure the people working for the cities who contributed to the RFP responses would not have had all the information in one centralized place. When content is not centralized, there are high chances they would have provided ad-hoc responses and not included the right subject matter experts (SMEs).

“If the cities had RFPIO implemented, it would have been easier for them to collaborate with various stakeholders and track their progress more efficiently,” Shankar added. “RFPIO would have also helped them to centralize the content. More importantly, if they receive a similar RFP in the future, it would be very easy for them to provide the responses for the new RFP. Without having a system like RFPIO in place, in all likelihood they will have to repeat the whole response process.”

Shankar’s entrepreneurial spirt extends to helping others, especially around increasing diversity in the workplace and mentoring minority founders to become successful entrepreneurs. As part of this work, he participated in the Elevate Inclusion Summit last year, to discuss topics related to encouraging diversity and inclusion in the startup community in general and within technology companies specifically.

Learn more about this week’s Geek of the Week, Ganesh Shankar:

What do you do, and why do you do it? I am the co-founder and CEO of RFPIO which provides cloud-based RFP response management software. The other founders and I all had experience responding to RFPs before and we wanted to automate and simplify how it’s been done in the past to help our customers win new business predictably. It’s hard to describe how awesome it is to develop something and then watch your user count double, then triple, and on and on. We now have more than 20,000 users around the world including 30 companies on the Fortune 500 list. One of our most recent customers is Express Scripts which was No. 25 on the list before their recent merger with Cigna and it’s been really rewarding to see RFPIO being used as part of a long-term business transformation initiative within the company. It’s an exciting time at our company and we’re having a lot of fun.

What’s the single most important thing people should know about your field? RFPs can be mission-critical revenue generators for companies who prioritize them as such, and take steps to optimize their processes for responding to them.

Where do you find your inspiration? I would say the inspiration for creating a response management solution came from managing RFPs day to day and really considering how it could be easier and more efficient. Today, I find inspiration from our customers. I’ve been really inspired by the customer stories at our user conferences and how they’ve solved real business problems using our product.

What’s the one piece of technology you couldn’t live without, and why? Definitely the smartphone; I can manage my personal and professional life all at once.

Ganesh Shankar in RFPIO’s new office space. Rapid growth called for a recent move for the Portland company. (Photo courtesy of RFPIO)

What’s your workspace like, and why does it work for you? I keep my focus by only using one monitor. I’m able to multitask, but I get more done when I take care of one thing at a time.

Your best tip or trick for managing everyday work and life. (Help us out, we need it.) Make sure when you’re with your family, you’re there with them fully. Dedicate that time to them and don’t get distracted. You’ll be grateful for this time when you’re back at work.

Mac, Windows or Linux? Windows.

Kirk, Picard, or Janeway? Kirk.

Transporter, Time Machine or Cloak of Invisibility? Time machine; I would love to go back in time. I’m fascinated by history and how people have lived their lives in different eras ― what their priorities were, what they were working on, how they communicated, etc.

If someone gave me $1 million to launch a startup, I would … Well, I’ve already done that with RFPIO! However, if we hadn’t launched a tech company, I would love to produce some kind of eco-friendly consumer products.

I once waited in line for … Years ago, I waited in line for hours when a Kentucky Fried Chicken opened in Coimbatore, and since moving to the United States nine years ago, I haven’t been there once! I’ve also spent a lot of time waiting in lines for my wife while she shops during the festival season in India. Thousands of people could be in the same store and there’d be one person working at the billing counter.

Your role models: It changes, it’s not just one person. Growing up my dad was my role model; so were some of the CEOs from past companies; and Steve Jobs, once I started a business.

Greatest game in history: 1983 Cricket World Cup between India and West Indies, the year I was born. India won by 43 runs; nobody believed they would.

Best gadget ever: Smartphone (iPhone).

First computer: Intel 486.

Current phone: iPhone 8 Plus.

Favorite app: Flipboard.

Favorite cause: The environment.

Most important technology of 2019: The Internet of Things.

Most important technology of 2021: Autonomous vehicles.

Final words of advice for your fellow geeks: Technology is boon or bane, depending on how we use it. My co-founders and I started with a problem that we actually had and set out to solve it. Bottom line is, don’t create unnecessary issues that need to be solved by technology. If you keep your eyes open, there are real opportunities to create solutions through automation right in front of you.

Website: RFPIO

Twitter: @rfpioinc

LinkedIn: Ganesh Shankar

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