Episode 1 - Ivo Verhaegh - Powerhouse AI (YC W22)
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“this helped me a lot in cold outreach, especially on the prospecting side”
by Jeb Blount
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“LinkedIn automations on autopilot”
📝 Podcast Transcript
Aditya: Ivo, How are you doing today?
Ivo: Ah, Adi. Very good. Thanks, man. How are you?
Aditya: I'm doing good. Let's cut the chit chat. Let's get straight into it, Ivo. So what does Powerhouse do? Like, tell us in 60 seconds?
Ivo: Yeah, so we are a scanning platform for warehouses using vision AI.
Ivo: You can imagine us as a company that scans everything from documents to labels that are barcoded
Ivo: labels that are not barcoded but even pallets telling you how many pallets or how many boxes are on a pallet.
Ivo: All in all to support warehouse operators to become more productive
Ivo: and more accurate. Solution runs on the phone or can be white labeled and run on your drones and robotic solutions as well.
Aditya: Amazing. So you just point the phone and it does all of these things in a warehouse.
Aditya: Awesome! So Ivo, how big is the team and how is it structured at the moment?
Ivo: Yep. So we are six people at the moment. Five people are in technology. One person in business we are talking to now. So that's in short how we're organized for now.
Aditya: Got it. So then I take it that you are the person who is like looking after all the growth and marketing efforts. Sort of like a one man army, if you will.
Ivo: Yes. Yeah, correct. Experimenting now with like an agency, experimenting with like hiring SDR, but at this moment, that's me. Yeah.
Aditya: Okay, love that. So, we'll definitely dive into that in a second. Because you know, I run an agency so kind of hurt you haven't asked me. But anyways so Ivo, how long did it take you to get your
Ivo: That hurts.
Ivo: How long did it take us? Okay. And then you mean like point to first contact to a signed contract?
Aditya: No, I mean like when you started the business how long did it take you from the day you started working on Powerhouse
Aditya: till the day you had your first customer close.
Ivo: Ah, okay. Quite a long time. I think it took more than a year, and it's had a couple of reasons. First of all, because we pivoted. And secondly because we run quite a long pilot with a couple of customers before we actually sign them as a paying client. I think last year we spent most of the time actually piloting the solution, developing it and we signed our first customer around September.
Aditya: Got it.
Ivo: But it took some time.
Aditya: I mean, you figured it out now. So like can you tell us a little bit about what channels you're typically using? I'm assuming it's something like account-based sales and emails or LinkedIn. But we'd love to hear more about that.
Ivo: Yeah. Yeah. So it's a direct sales approach, so we don't necessarily do marketing, so our growth effort, mainly sales, is direct sales. What helps for us, mainly LinkedIn actually. Emails we haven't had that much success with. I'm now experimenting, going back to it, going back to more personalized, going back to more mass as well.
Ivo: But I see some geographical differences as well with the success rate of both of these channels.
Aditya: Got it. Like, tell us a little bit more about the LinkedIn stuff. Because we have a bunch of founders who are you know, also in B2B who sort of look at LinkedIn as a very expensive channel. Like, ads on LinkedIn are typically like a lot more expensive than, you know, your usual suspects. So like, tell us a little bit about how you are harnessing LinkedIn for Powerhouse.
Ivo: Yeah, so first it actually has been very cheap. I'd say it only requires a sales navigator license and some kind of automation tool. So we've been using Meet Alfred which has been great for us. And it's mainly, it's very similar to email. So you select your, you create a good filter, a good I C P customer persona
Ivo: and then you just reach out connection requests, and InMail or connection messages.
Aditya: So you sort of have a sequence built in where you put in the leads in sales navigator. Awesome. Like, have you, do you do any sort of ads on LinkedIn or is it just the the outbound approach for the moment.
Ivo: Only outbound for the moment. Yep.
Aditya: Got it. Sweet. Like, can you share any numbers around like what sort of reply rates you're getting or any numbers you can share around conversion?
Ivo: Yeah, that's a good one. Okay. Let's talk about like acceptance of connection request. It's kind of floating around 20 to 35%. Surprisingly, when we started experimenting with having no connection message
Aditya: It works better, right?
Ivo: It was more towards the higher side. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. I don't know if it is because of the title, like being a CEO, founder, so I don't know if it works for everyone, but this works for us.
Aditya: Honestly, it's been the experience, yeah with a bunch of, like myself and a bunch of our clients. I, my thesis is because the only people who put in enough effort to add something in a connection request message
Aditya: are the ones who wanna sell you something. So I think people are kind wary of that.
Aditya: So it seems more organic to just send a blank connection request.
Ivo: Yeah, yeah, exactly. But I can't imagine if you have in your title sales or marketing, at least
Ivo: if I look for from my own perspective and I get connection requests from sales and marketing as well
Ivo: I tend to reject quicker than if it's somebody else who could, for example, be a potential candidate
Ivo: to join our team, let's say, so I can imagine more people might think that way.
Aditya: I would almost imagine that, yeah, on one hand you have higher rejections, but on the other hand
Aditya: anybody who is in the market right now for a solution would probably respond. The signal to noise will be higher if you like signal clearly what it is that you're doing. You know, on that subject, I've actually been
Ivo: Yeah, so some pre-qualification never hurts. It's all about getting to know the quickest as possible, right?
Aditya: Absolutely. You know, I have actually been experimenting a little bit with my LinkedIn byline. So my current one, would love your take on it is, "Your ARR is not my son, but I will still raise it."
Ivo: Huh. It's funny. I think that helps.
Aditya: That's what I'm going for, essentially.
Ivo: I think fun can help a lot. I saw even maybe going a little on tangent, I saw like a funny unsubscribe button. Which was very hard to kind of click because it was a fan that would move your, cursor away from the unsubscribe button.
Ivo: It could even be a reason to, to just keep on being a subscriber because they really thought about this.
Aditya: That is so funny. Yeah. Do you remember what tool it was? That would be pretty cool. I'll link the tool.
Ivo: I do not. I should check.
Aditya: No worries. So, Ivo so you were telling us about, you know, how long it took you to get your first customer. Now with the insights that you have now,
Aditya: if you could go back in time and give yourself some advice regarding getting customers, what would it be?
Ivo: I think two things. First of all, sales is all about building a cadence. It's about being disciplined. And indeed not taking a week of break and then going back at it like the payoff comes after a while of working. Another one, which has been very important for us is do the hard work before.
Ivo: So like in our, in the program that we both, that we both followed, like EF
Ivo: it was all about, you know, getting a signed pilot, getting LOIs as soon as possible. I think the goal shouldn't be to get to a signed pilot as soon as possible. It should be towards qualifying your client. Like we had a couple of instances where we started doing a pilot
Ivo: and in the end figured out that the success criteria that they were striving for were not compatible with our product.
Ivo: So it means that we, both of us, both the client and us, we have wasted our time. And you better spend a little bit more time beforehand, before you actually really start building or configuring or really investing a lot of time.
Aditya: Got it. That's really interesting. That's solid advice. I think especially like also your first point about being disciplined. I mean, I've seen it so many times. You know, founders will set up like two domains and five email accounts
Aditya: and the bottleneck is actually not how many emails they're sending
Aditya: but just discipline and consistency regarding just sitting down
Aditya: and getting those leads generated and sending those emails out, outbound messages out. Awesome. So Ivo, then let's switch gears for a second. Like, I wanna hear about, you know, what's the most ridiculous thing you've done in the name of growth? Which failed. So give me a bad outcome first.
Ivo: Ah. Yeah. Yeah. Okay. I think we haven't done really crazy stuff like in the end our sector is also a bit conservative. We have been mainly focusing on direct sales. What I figured never helped is like, referrals have not been very successful for us. That, so yeah, we're trying to re, like trying to redesign that in order to incentivize referring.
Ivo: But multiple times when we contact partners, and they're thinking and discussing about referring it, it never really worked for us. So we're now working on like a kind of incentive structure to get that going as well. But no crazy, ridiculous stuff on our side in respect to growth.
Aditya: And what's the, in terms of dollars, like the biggest investment you've made in growth or sales that worked out well?
Ivo: For us it's mainly time. We are very lean with our growth expenditures, so the only thing where we spend on at this moment is some tooling. And I said, yeah, now experimenting with a lead generation agency. That's of course a little bit more expensive. But we've mainly been doing it with very little expenditure.
Aditya: Got it. Ivo, what about the yacht party that you, you know, invited me and all your friends to
Aditya: I thought that was a sales expense, but nevermind.
Ivo: Ah, yeah, I should have, that would've lowered my taxes.
Aditya: Exactly right.
Ivo: Thanks Adi, you're selling yourself very well now.
Aditya: Thank you. So Ivo, you were talking about Meet Alfred just a little bit ago, so I want to know
Aditya: what's your absolute favorite one digital tool or resource that you just can't live without when it comes to, sales and growth?
Ivo: Huh. I think Meet Alfred is a great tool in combination with Superhuman. That's sufficient, I think at this moment, especially when you are pre-product market fit
Ivo: it's important not to organize or like set up too many fixed processes and systems because that will change anyway
Ivo: because a lot of things and levers are changing.
Ivo: So in that sense, we are also still experimenting, what are our best you know, sales channel, sales procedure. So the more you fix it into tooling and the more time you spend
Ivo: and money you spend into tooling, there's a high chance it would turn out to waste. So, yeah, I'd really recommend stay, stay lean. Don't use that much tooling. But like a tool like Meet Alfred, that's saved us a lot of time without actually getting our LinkedIn account blocked. We used
Aditya: That's a big one.
Ivo: this other tool called? Yeah, Duck Soup, I believe. Yeah. That's terrible. I got my LinkedIn account blocked every time. And Meet Alfred, they have a different way. It works perfectly.
Aditya: Yeah, I mean I think that's a good point. That Duck Soup it's known for getting accounts blocked
Aditya: and you really don't want to get your personal LinkedIn account blocked. I think that would be quite tragic, especially if you've been putting content out for a while. Yeah. So on the subject of content, Ivo, what's your one favorite
Aditya: what's your recommendation for our listeners for either a book or a podcast that has influenced the way you think about startups?
Ivo: Yeah. First of all, since we're talking about growth and sales, I would, I'd actually go for books. There's a lot of resources out online indeed, like blogs, articles, podcasts. It's very hard to get to know the quality of these resources. So I'd go for time tested books, stick with a couple.
Ivo: What helped me a lot in outreach, especially on the prospecting side, is the books of Jeb Blount. I believe it's Fanatical Prospecting, handling Objections. Yeah, that has been very helpful. So read those, read maybe some sales books around, you know
Ivo: Let's get real or let's not play I believe or Gap Selling, and then just, just get started and put it into practice.
Aditya: Got it. No, I think that's bang on. Especially, you know your point about how there's just so much content and resources out there
Aditya: and it's only been amplified by stuff like GPT, that it's like finding the signal in that noise has become so much harder.
Ivo: It's very confusing, to be honest. Very, very confusing because you get contradictory advice
Ivo: and you do not know the authority of the one that is actually putting that content out
Ivo: and that, especially when you're a first time founder and not necessarily have a lot of experience in sales
Ivo: you need good advice.
Ivo: In that sense. So yeah, stick with proven resources.
Aditya: The time tested ones. Yeah.
Ivo: The time tested ones. Yeah.
Aditya: So, yeah. So Ivo, like you were mentioning that how, you know, in your team, you're basically
Aditya: the only person who's looking after growth and marketing
Aditya: and you know, your ARR rests on your shoulders. Have you had any experiences collaborating with like freelancers, external experts, or agencies, and how did those experiences go?
Ivo: Yeah, I'm now experimenting with an agency on sales. It just has been a couple of weeks, so I think it might be too early for me to already conclude. So they are lead generations, so they actually take over the LinkedIn outreach and email outreach. Very practical. I have to wrap my head around if this is ideal or not.
Ivo: If it works, it's great because I like working with freelancers
Ivo: because it's a very productive, kind of transactional type of relationship
Ivo: that's really focused, you know, the time from me and the freelancer is really focused on getting this job done
Ivo: instead of all the management responsibilities that you would have if you have somebody within the team.
Ivo: On the other hand, the disadvantage is sales is also an important capability. That you probably wanna build within your own company as well. So I have to see how it goes. I have to see how good the results are. With the agency. It has been mixed until now, but I don't want to jump the gun too quickly.
Aditya: Makes sense. Makes sense. And especially like if sales is gonna be a primary channel
Aditya: I think in the long term you would probably wanna build that muscle in-house.
Ivo: Yeah, I think indeed like the more one time or more ad hoc type of advisory type of work
Ivo: like setting up a sales strategy, for example, or thinking about that, thinking a lot that, I think for that, like freelancing
Ivo: or like agencies would be a lot more suitable. I've also worked with a sales coach for a while
Ivo: that's just super useful to get like, you know, the process is straight, way of thinking, straight.
Ivo: And add a more, add like the really the reach out stuff, it's probably good to either have it in house
Ivo: or have a very good agency, but yeah, it's not, not too easy to find.
Aditya: I mean, makes perfect sense. Actually, you know what we do for a couple of our clients who use LinkedIn is we actually use email as the primary channel. So the cold outreach and everything is on email, but we use LinkedIn as a demand gen layer where we run ads. But the goal of those ads is to not collect leads or drive conversions.
Aditya: It's very targeted ads. For those specific accounts only aimed at driving awareness. So it's sort of a, you know, pure play awareness ads and then a week or two
Aditya: it's like, so you see an ad today and you see it for the next week or so
Aditya: and then after five or six days of you having, you know, at least a couple of impressions on that ad, then we send a cold email to you.
Aditya: Then it's not cold per se, it's like slightly warmed up. And we've seen like statistically significant increase in reply rates from doing this. So you may want to test that out.
Ivo: Yeah. Yeah. It's a good tip. Yeah. Yeah. It's kinda like the law of familiarity, right? So if you start posting on LinkedIn it's similar instead of ads. But yeah, principles are the same. Yeah.
Aditya: Yeah. So that sort of two step demand gen we've seen like great success for our clients with that. Cool. So Ivo, before startups, I remember you told me you were in big corporate. So how has, like, have you ever questioned your, you know, career choice in startups
Aditya: and do you ever feel like you know, maybe it was a good decision or not so good decision?
Ivo: Ah, in the end, I'm very happy with the decision. But did I question my decisions? Yes. Sometimes. Yeah. I mean, being a founder is not, it's not easy. Right. And it really has its highs, but it also has its lows
Ivo: and I think the amplitude is much higher than if you are an employee. Yeah. So there have been moments.
Ivo: I think at the end of EF, like the entrepreneurship first program, we were pretty much like, we just had a couple of weeks. I was one of, I believe it was the last team to actually got formed
Ivo: and we only had three weeks in order, three, four weeks in order to get investment. And at that point I thought like, I just have three, four weeks. I, this is just too short. In order to prove ourselves to the investment board or the investment committee. Yeah, at that point, I thought about it. We did manage, so that's great. Yeah, once in a while, you know, it had like, it pops up. But then I also realized like, actually what a privilege it is to be a founder
Ivo: in order to, you know, hold the steering wheel of life yourself and
Ivo: I also realized, hey, we actually have a great product that can add a lot of value to our clients, so let's, let's continue even through these downturns. Yeah.
Aditya: Absolutely, totally relate to that. I mean, some quick context for anybody listening in is that me and Ivo, we, you know, now we know each other for a couple of years now. So we went through this entrepreneurship program called Entrepreneur First. Which is almost like a reality show where you have three months to find a co-founder, find an idea, validate it
Aditya: maybe build a product, maybe get a customer, and then the top ideas and top teams get funded.
Aditya: So Ivo and all of this builds up to sort of a demo day where you pitch to an investment committee. And, you know, most of the teams that got selected had been formed for 8 to 10 weeks. You know, they had a good amount of time to experiment and talk to users and build their MVPs. But Ivo's team was one of the youngest teams to get funded.
Aditya: I think, they just formed like five minutes before the demo day or something like that.
Ivo: Pretty much.
Ivo: Pretty much, pretty much. Yeah.
Aditya: Always, always found that to be pretty amazing. So Ivo, we were talking about
Ivo: It is a great story.
Aditya: It is a great story and it's not a story, I mean, it's the truth. So, you know.
Ivo: It's the truth.
Aditya: It's the truth.
Ivo: Maybe not the five minutes. It was six minutes, but hey, I appreciate it.
Aditya: You can take a little bit of a poetic liberty with that. Right?
Ivo: Exactly. Exactly.
Aditya: So on the subject of ups and downs, what's the strangest or weirdest customer feedback or customer complaint
Aditya: that you've received and how did you use it to drive growth? If you've ever had a case like that.
Ivo: Yeah, I think we had, we at one time we had a customer and we were talking with them for quite a while. And then kind of out of the blue they told us, yeah, like, we shouldn't do this. Because if we become more efficient we actually earn less money. So it's in our interest that we are less efficient because we charge our customers per hour.
Ivo: And if we save hours, we actually earn less. It's like, okay. That's interesting. So yeah, since then we also ask about the charging model. You know, how do our customers charge their customers? What are their incentives? And then we actually get back to the thing we discussed at the beginning of our chat is yeah, do the prep work before.
Ivo: Because we also had a customer, we had another customer where we worked with for a year. Then the roles changed, so our contact person changed because one left
Ivo: and he of course started looking at the business case again, at the collaboration
Ivo: and then he said like, hey, but we currently do not pay our supplier for this particular service
Ivo: so if we actually use your service, our ROI would always be negative.
Ivo: So, you know, like it's a similar one. It's again about the charging model which wasn't clear to us, which unfortunately wasn't communicated, but we also didn't ask. Yeah. So that, that definitely is a, is a big one for us. Yeah. Really get the incentives straight.
Aditya: Got it. I mean, talk about, you know, having perverse incentives set up during customer discovery.
Aditya: So thanks a lot for your time Ivo I think this was pretty much everything we wanted to cover. For any of our listeners who may be in the warehousing space, you should definitely hit up Ivo and check out Powerhouse.AI
Aditya: provided that you wanna increase efficiency and decrease the time you're spending.
Ivo: Yeah, that's an important prerequisite.
Aditya: it is an important prerequisite as we've discovered in these 20 or so minutes. Alright Ivo best of luck and thank you.
Ivo: Thanks. Really enjoyed the chat, Adi. Cheers.