The techpreneur believes that if a founder is focused on an exit strategy, they might forget to build and fortify their business
Serial entrepreneur, tech evangelist, and philanthropist—Tomas Gorny dons many hats, including heading Nextiva as co-founder and CEO and serving on the board of directors for Endurance International Group.
An ardent fan of Apple and its founder, Steve Jobs, he believes the actual opportunity in customer experience (CX) and conversational solutions lies in making the technology relevant and pertinent to non-technical users, akin to what Jobs did with the iPhone and iMac.
During his recent visit to India, Gorny spoke exclusively to Outlook Start-Up about his plans to democratise customer experience solutions for organisations, irrespective of their scale. Joining him were the company's newly appointed and Rohit Gupta, CEO and co-founder of Simplify360, which Nextiva acquired in April 2023.
You penned your thoughts for NextOS on a table napkin 12 years ago; why wait so long to launch it?
Tomas: Before starting Nextiva, I was associated with several businesses—one became the second largest website hosting company, and another is the largest website security company globally. As part of these associations, I recognised how difficult it was for companies, especially those without technologists, to combine different tech stacks together.
When we started unified communications as a service (UCaaS) 12 years ago, our objective was to convince people to invest in non-discretionary communication solutions and later integrate these with native tools that we built, including extensions of third-party tools. This would give the companies a 360-degree understanding of their customers.
Within a couple of years, we developed our in-house CRM so that our clients could capture all the customer information with these conversations. Since then, we have filed for over 50 patents, of which over 25 have been approved.
By 2014, businesses started using more channels for customer conversations. We started developing a comprehensive tech stack around 2018-19, and then COVID-19 struck. We realised that the market is ripe for these solutions since customers wanted the convenience of things at their doorstep.
Most businesses could not deliver on these expectations since they lacked the tech stack, a problem we were solving. So, it was not a long journey but just a gradual evolution of being in the right place at the right time.
There are many established players in the UCaaS domain. How will you establish your brand, given this competition?
Tomas: We are a $350 million company expanding internationally, thanks to the partnership with Simplify 360. That kind of scale is irreplaceable.
I don't see ourselves as a UCaaS company; this is not a statement of arrogance. People use an array of products to communicate with their customers, collaborate with the teams and create workflows.
Data lives in silos and workflows are complicated with distributed access for small organisations. In 2014, there was a need to consolidate all conversations and organise them to analyse the data and derive good insights.
Today, people prefer large brands like Amazon since they know the customer better because of these insights, and smaller businesses are losing out in the bargain. I am compassionate about democratising innovation and want to level the playing field where everybody competes on ingenuity by providing an agnostic tech stack.
User interfaces lack a single orchestration dashboard, resulting in poor visibility and preventing companies from collecting real-time data critical for their business. How is Nextiva resolving these issues for start-ups by offering them pay-as-you-go options?
Rohit: Simplify360, which is now part of Nextiva, has worked with Ola since it was established around 2012 and with Rapido. These companies still use our solutions. Understanding their pain points from the initial days, our product is built to enable a 5-member team to use the dashboard, orchestration or AI, and scale it effectively when they grow into a larger organisation like Tata Play with more than 100 people working on it.
Emerging start-ups constantly seek improved interoperation with third-party tools to bridge the gap of managing operations with fewer and less skilled tech teams. Modern network orchestration, therefore, is very critical for them to manage their data and optimise their services amidst robust security. Does Nextiva have an integrated point-based service that allows them in this endeavour?
Rohit: Absolutely, we have already integrated most tools that these companies require and the data the tool provides is easily available to them. They don't need a technical person to get this out of the system, as it can be integrated into native interfaces and third-party apps.
We also support them with training and case studies so they can streamline, improve and utilise it for their customers. We educate them about customer engagement, how it can be enhanced and leveraging using AI in a manner that does not bleed their wallets.
Many of our interactions with start-ups are agnostic about the technology or company they should use but more about providing them with the information. At our recent event in Mumbai, we hardly spoke about Nextiva or its offerings. Instead, we discussed generative AI, how to adopt it, the different technologies available and how they should be selected.
How is Nextiva using its acquisition of Simplify360 in April 2023 as an opportunity to expand its operations in APAC?
Tomas: We got to know Rohit and Simplify360's team for a year before making the deal to understand its tech stack and people. Since the company is located in India, it gives us geographical access to a bigger market in South Asia and the Middle East.
From a revenue and growth perspective, my philosophy is predicated on three things—focus on providing more value to customers than they pay for, work with great people and never have an exit strategy. Because if you focus on building your business, you will be a much better business than if you focus on the exit strategy, where you may forget to build your business.
What kind of investment will Nextiva make in India?
Senthil: Almost 50 per cent of Nextiva's customers start working with us when they have less than ten people and continue this association as they scale. This is the best testament to how well we understand and service their needs with our solutions.
Now, building great products requires great talent. While we have a strong team, we need to fill in some existing talent gaps.
How much ARR did Nextiva record in 2022? What are your expectations for 2023?
Senthil: We have continuously grown northwards by 20 per cent so far. This year, we are focused on building a tech stack and approaching additional markets, and our ARR is around $350 million.
Nextiva raised $200 million in its first external funding round in 2021 from Goldman Sachs at a $2.7 billion valuation. Are you contemplating another fundraise to keep pace with your growth plans?
Tomas: Not really. Nextiva was self-funded, and I provided the primary financing initially and throughout the years when needed, as I was fortunate to have some significant outcomes in my prior businesses.
Since Goldman Sachs had invested in my other businesses, I felt comfortable bringing the company to the table.
We raised capital because a self-funded company is like the best-kept secret in the US and needed more validation in the marketplace. We did not raise funds because we were losing money; we were breaking even after investing every penny in the business.
Are you planning to go public?
Tomas: Going public is still on the table. But for now, we have sufficient capital on our balance sheet.