SkyFounder Spotlight: Ajay Bam of SkyTeam Vyrill
This week’s spotlight is on SkyTeam Vyrill co-founder Ajay Bam. Vyrill is a one-stop dashboard & API for product video management, intelligence and marketing.
Q: What was your experience prior to working in the startup industry?
A: Vyrill is my second startup. I’m a computer scientist by background. I went to Babson for my MBA and founded my first company in the mobile shopping space. The company eventually grew, and I sold the company to Catalina Marketing. I’ve gone through the process of startup building to acquisition. I have 13+ years of background in mobile commerce and shopping world.
Q: Has your startup evolved over time?
A: We didn’t start as a B2B company; we actually started as a B2C, where consumers could shop for products with videos. Every time we went to brands, they looked at our video discovery and video analysis dashboard and said that they wanted our dashboard instead. So 4 months ago, we did the pivot from B2C to B2B and now we’ve become a B2B video marketing automation platform for consumer brands.
Q: What gets you out of bed in the morning?
A: I love beautiful design, so I start my day every morning by reading newsletters about beautiful things in architecture, in product design and in life. It’s really wonderful to start my day with something beautiful that really inspires me and that I’m really passionate about. Vyrill is solving some real challenging problems for brands. How to hire the best talent, build a product that has a ‘wow’ factor at first look, and how to monetize our product keeps me up every morning these days.
Q: How did you meet your team?
A: I was introduced to Barbara through Professor Dr. Marti Hearst and to Brian through a student of mine. I was previously a Lecturer in Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Haas at U.C.Berkeley. Professor Marti Hearst is an advisor and investor in Vyrill. Barbara was a Ph.D. student of Marti’s from 11 years ago at CAL.
Q: What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced? How did you overcome it?
A: The biggest challenge is talent — we’re trying to get some smart designers and engineers on board. It’s not easy to find good talent; on top of that, you have to find someone that aligns with your mission, vision and culture of the company. The second biggest challenge for us is ramping up our customer base. Currently, we’re looking to sign up new customers, build out our business model and our sales deck and strategy. Understanding sales cycles and when to reach out to the right size customer is very important. Thankfully, we have some great mentors, who are helping us out with our B2B sales and marketing strategy.
Q: What have been some of your biggest successes and milestones?
A: Before we started building the whole product, we build out the MVP (the minimum viable product) and did few simple experiments to gauge interest from marketing teams at consumer brands. We put out video centric product stories every morning on Linkedin, Facebook and Twitter. We would tag the CEO and head of marketing of the companies to get their attention to the story. The response rate has been great. 30% of them connected back with me on linkedin, and 96% of the video campaigns have been retweeted by brands and fans. These early success signals were encouraging. Couple the signals with a great team and we will soon have a useful BETA product that our customers want, translating to paying customers.
Q: Why did you choose SkyDeck?
A: I’ve been involved with SkyDeck since I started teaching at Berkeley. I want the U.C.Berkeley startup ecosystem to grow and wanted to be part of making that change happen. I was already aware of SkyDeck and wanted my startup to participate in the SkyDeck program. There were a few things about SkyDeck that struck me: the extensive Cal network and also the access to potential customers and potential investors, mentorships, and workshops that we do. Furthermore, I believe that the best advice, talent connections and support comes from community and peers.
Q: What advice would you give to someone who’s trying to start a business?
A: If you don’t have an expertise in a particular area, get that expertise so you have something to bring to the table or get a co-founder, who might have the expertise. Also, you want to do it with someone who is better than you and someone who complements you. Finally, don’t just work on any idea. Work on a deep problem, on a problem that has a pain point, and that customers are willing to pay for if you were to solve that pain point.
Q: Do you have a team motto?
A: If I had a team motto, it would be the three Cs. Be Challenged, be Communicative, and be Curious. Curiosity instills a spirit of questioning and discovery, that is crucial to a startup’s success.