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“You Can Never Stop Obsessing About The Customer” With Ragy Thomas CEO of Sprinklr

While building a successful company requires hard work, dedication, and many invaluable people on the inside, you must never forget that it’s the customer standing outside who matters most.


“You can never stop obsessing about the customer. We spent the earliest days  uncovering what sort of value we could provide for our customers. We asked our clients what social media capabilities they lacked. What they hoped would be possible. Through countless interactions, we learned about their greatest aspirations and their challenges. We let their needs define how we could serve them. And then we worked with them to co-invent our product to serve those exact needs. While building a successful company requires hard work, dedication, and many invaluable people on the inside, you must never forget that it’s the customer standing outside who matters most.”


I had the pleasure to interview Ragy Thomas. Ragy is the CEO and Founder of Sprinklr, the most complete social media management platform for the enterprise, that helps more than 1,200 global brands deliver better customer experiences across 25+ social channels including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and WeChat. Headquartered in New York City with 1,400 employees in 22 offices, Sprinklr works with global brands including Nike, McDonald’s, Microsoft, Samsung, and more than 50% of the Fortune 50.

Yitzi: Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?

Ragy Thomas: I was born in India, but grew up somewhat all over.

My parents moved us to Nigeria for work when I was in the third grade. While there, I didn’t go to school — the educational system at the time was not very good, so after one visit, my parents decided against it. We returned to India when I was in the fifth grade, and I got placed into a Catholic boarding school.

Those early years in Nigeria, then at the boarding school — while short — were character defining.

Not having a stable school environment helped me learn to solve problems on my own and to trust my internal compass. Being in an isolated Catholic boarding school made me deeply spiritual — not religious, but spiritual. I developed an unorthodox way of thinking about the world and an almost naive sense of trust in people. I still go through life with the belief that there’s goodness everywhere.

I was recruited out of college by a software company that brought me to the U.S. From there, I wound up at a dotcom business. That’s when my entrepreneurial spirit came alive. I co-founded an email marketing startup that later became Bigfoot Interactive. We sold the company to Epsilon in 2005 and I stayed on as President of Epsilon Interactive.

I left Epsilon in 2008, because I saw the disruption email had on the way companies communicate with customers, and believed social would do the same thing. I saw the rate at which consumers were adopting social and I knew that whatever consumers embraced, businesses would inevitably as well — and that they would need help. And so, I traded in my executive job to work out of my spare bedroom in New Jersey. I put together a small, amazing team and from there, we willed Sprinklr into being.

Yitzi: Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company

Ragy Thomas: Back in 2012, we went through the exercise of defining Sprinklr’s company values. We had reached a point in our maturity where it felt necessary to define and codify these principles. So I gathered a few members of the senior leadership team, brought them into a conference room, and spent half a day coming up with the ideas that we believed defined the culture we wanted for Sprinklr. We ended up with 10 very aspirational, very poster-worthy adjectives. Years later, I can still remember what the weather was like on that day. But for the life of me, I can’t recall a single word we wrote down.

That exercise, fruitless as it seems, taught me two very important lessons as an entrepreneur. 1: it’s really important to get culture right, and you might not get it right the first time. 2: culture is not something you can decree — it has to be discovered, nurtured, and shaped over time.

Yitzi: So how does your company help people?

Ragy Thomas: Thanks to social media, customers are connected and empowered like never before. It no longer matters what a brand has to say about itself; it’s what customers say that matters most. And how customers apply that powerful force is a direct result of one thing: their experience — the sum of how they feel across each interaction with a brand.

Everything a brand does — the way it does marketing, advertising, research, commerce, care — all play a role in shaping the customer experience. And increasingly, each of these departments relies on social as the contextual glue for better understanding and serving customers.

Sprinklr is the most complete social media management platform for the enterprise. We help the world’s largest brands do marketing, advertising, research, commerce, and care on Facebook, Twitter, and 23+ other social channels globally — all on one integrated platform. When deployed across the organization and integrated with legacy systems, such as email and CRM, Sprinklr becomes the backbone for managing customer experiences at scale. The first true customer experience management platform purpose-built for a social world.

Today, more than 1,200 global brands — including more than 50% of the Fortune 50 — use Sprinklr to collaborate across internal silos to deliver delightful customer experiences at scale.

Yitzi: How have you used our success to bring goodness to the world?

Ragy Thomas: As we’ve seen time and again, you cannot underestimate the power of social in creating real humanitarian change. At Sprinklr, we live and work by our core values, and one of them is passionate, genuinely care.

Keeping this value in mind, we have a program called Sprinklr Cares (check out #SprinklrCares on Twitter) that facilitates the engagement between the everyday humanitarian and the organizations that are driving impactful social change. We are proud to leverage our technology, talent, time, and advocacy to contribute to the greater good. We accomplish these goals by:

– Supporting partner non-profit organizations via pro bono software, technical consulting, and advocacy
— Volunteering in the communities surrounding Sprinklr offices
— Fundraising for crisis events

We’re currently focused on giving back to those who’ve been impacted by the recent hurricanes that have swept through North America. We’ve teamed up with Circle of Health International to help give back to the communities in need — if you’re interested in donating, visit this link.

Yitzi: What are your “5 things I wish someone told me Before I Launched My Startup” and why. (Please share a story or example for each.)

Ragy Thomas:

  1. You can never stop obsessing about the customer.
     
    We spent the earliest days of Sprinklr uncovering what sort of value we could provide for our customers. We asked our clients what social media capabilities they lacked. What they hoped would be possible. Through countless interactions, we learned about their greatest aspirations and their challenges. We let their needs define how we could serve them. And then we worked with them to co-invent our product to serve those exact needs. While building a successful company requires hard work, dedication, and many invaluable people on the inside, you must never forget that it’s the customer standing outside who matters most.
  2. Failing is how you gain experience.
     
    I always tell people that success is like an Indian curry. Curry has so many different ingredients that come together perfectly for it to taste good. But it’s very easy to find out when something goes wrong — too much salt, or too much pepper, for instance — and when you’re first starting out, many things will go wrong. It’s hard to appreciate it in the moment, but failure is how you grow. Who you ultimately become is a strict function of what you’ve gone through.
  3. Think about culture early on — and don’t ever stop.
     It’s easy to have great culture when you’re a small company. But once you expand beyond one market or start making acquisitions, you’ll start to see the cracks in your foundation. For me, it happened around employee number 50. I walked around the office one day and saw people I didn’t interact with very often. We were still a small company at that point — all sitting on a crowded floor in a cramped office — but I felt disconnected somehow. We hadn’t identified the core elements that connected us. So, we went through the whiteboarding exercise, then eventually looked to our best employees at the time. We looked for a set of principles they all operated on. Over time, these personality traits became our company values. They’re now written on our walls, mentioned in board meetings, and woven into our day-to-day. We hire based on them, promote against them, and use them to guide how we think and act.
  4. Sacrifice the quick wins for long-term value.
     A couple years ago, I turned down a big potential client. One part of the business wanted to go with Sprinklr, while another division wanted to go with a competitor. My sales team brought me in, with the hopes that I would seal the deal for us. So I spent an afternoon sitting down with the social team. During that conversation, I realized the company wasn’t ready for a solution like Sprinklr. So I told them, “you shouldn’t buy us.” In the short term, it was a big loss for us that quarter. But in the long run, it paved way for a much more meaningful conversation with that same company — which is now a Sprinklr client.
  5. Building a company is a struggle, and it has to be that way.
     
    The early days at Sprinklr were intense. Work had no end. Sometimes, my wife and I would work through the night, then get home just in time to drop our kids off at school. Eight years later, we’re a much bigger organization — with 1,500 employees across 20 offices — but we still have the heart of a scrappy startup. We still have early mornings meetings, late-night transatlantic calls, and that same uncompromising passion that defined us on Day One. Building a company is not about the destination — it’s about the journey. The long, relentlessly difficult, yet beautiful journey.

Yitzi: I have been blessed with the opportunity to interview and be in touch with some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂

Ragy Thomas:

Barack Obama. I want to learn how he thinks.

Originally published at medium.com

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