Growing up in the greater Seattle area with Microsoft practically across the fence from home, technology — and more specifically tech entrepreneurship — was a natural career path for Rishi Talwar.
“Ever since I can remember, back to high school, I’ve always had something on the side that I was doing,” Talwar said. “I was very entrepreneurial.”
So he graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in informatics, ticked through a couple of internships while an undergraduate and promptly launched two companies with his co-founder, Haji Furukawa. One of their startups built a web application for DJs to compile song requests and build event pages, and the other was a software consulting company that built web and mobile apps for businesses.
Talwar and Furukawa had some success with both, the consulting startup landing clients that ranged from startups to Fortune 500 companies. But that enterprise sparked a bigger idea: providing data to companies selling their products to Amazon. To do this, the duo last year launched InsightLeap, a Redmond, Wash.-based company.
“Our goal is to improve the productivity and effectiveness of people working with e-commerce data by stitching siloed Amazon data together and providing better reporting, analytics and insights,” Talwar said.
That includes data on sales and inventory, operations, advertising, pricing, customer reviews and monitoring how products are being shown. InsightLeap compiles all of that, Talwar said, and “we help you synthesize it to make sure you are focusing on the right aspects of your Amazon business.”
It’s a hot space for entrepreneurs. InsightLeap’s competition includes three Seattle-area startups that are also targeting Amazon retailers and marketers. All three include former Amazon employees among their founders:
- Downstream, which raised $2 million in seed funding in August.
- Gradient, which landed $3.5 million in seed funding in October.
- Stackline, which has more than 500 clients such as Sony, Starbucks, Google, Unilever.
InsightLeap already has a handful of customers, Talwar said, including small brands and agencies, as well as some larger businesses. The company website lists Tana Sales & Marketing, Pinnacle Marketing, MPI Advantage and E.B. Carlson Marketing as customers.
Amazon, meanwhile, was crowned the world’s most valuable company, edging out Microsoft. Its advertising arm has quietly grown into a multi-billion dollar business as sellers look to get their products in front of online customers.
Over the coming year Insight Leap will be hiring employees — with a focus on engineers — and working on product development, Talwar said. We caught up with him for this Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature. Continue reading for his answers to our questionnaire.
Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: InsightLeap brings together Amazon data to help people in e-commerce roles do their job better.
Inspiration hit us when: We spoke with our first potential customers early on and they all said they had similar challenges with their Amazon data. While we were talking with them, we showed them our product at the time. They were so excited asking us, “How much? When they could get started?” and kept giving us feedback on how we can help them.
VC, Angel or Bootstrap: Bootstrapped for now because it develops discipline in building a product that provides value that you can charge for. It also makes you maniacally focused on working closely with your customers to make sure you’re solving their problem because essentially they are funding you.
We’re not opposed to raising and see enormous benefit in how we can deploy that capital if we meet the right VC or angel investors who are aligned with our vision. Regardless, my co-founder and I are in the mindset of building a meaningful and impactful business!
Our ‘secret sauce’ is: Our complementary skill-sets as a team and our unique approach to solving one of the toughest problems that e-commerce analysts are facing today. Also, the level of service we provide to our customers to make sure they’re successful with our platform.
The smartest move we’ve made so far: Getting outside the office and talking to customers from the very beginning when our product was in its infancy was key in establishing relationships with people in our space. We took their feedback into consideration and reworked our product, and we were able to pick up our conversation where we left off. That approach has led to more sales, and become a theme for us even today.
The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: Not leaving our software consulting business earlier. Leaving it to go full time on InsightLeap has allowed us to focus without having an entirely different company in the back of our minds. It has drastically helped product development, sales and delivering a better experience for our customers when we made this shift.
Would you rather have Gates, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: Gates for his deep technical expertise and empathy of the business user. I’m a little biased here because I grew up in the backyard of Microsoft’s HQ, so I’ve always looked up to him for the impact he’s had in the software world.
Also, given that we are utilizing Amazon data extensively, we’d also like Bezos in our corner for his constant innovation in areas that people don’t yet know about. Bezos keeps people on their toes! We want to keep the e-commerce industry constantly wondering what we’ll come up with next as well!
Our favorite team-building activity is: Walking down to the local cafe for happy hour on Fridays and going out for lunch on Mondays. Our office is also next to Microsoft’s main Redmond campus so when it’s nice out we like to walk around the campus and hope for a bit of that Microsoft mojo to rub off!
The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: Grit, respect and humility. Grit for always keeping one foot in front the other even if things look bleak. Respect for other members on the team and their viewpoints. Humility because it’s OK not to know everything, which leaves room to constantly be learning and adapting. Overall, a team needs to like working with each other in order to help our customers win and build a lasting company.
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: Identify frequent small wins that will help you put one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward. As you move forward, these small wins will compound and contribute to a larger outcome.