A lot of bets are being made these days on the thesis that most enterprise products don’t make users’ lives easier or help them do their jobs better. “I doubt you could find a single sales rep who really enjoys using Salesforce,” says Roger Lee, a general partner of Battery Ventures. “What a [customer-relationship management] product should do is tell you which leads are likely to close this quarter, what products they’ll buy, how much they’ll spend, and whether they’re candidates for upsell opportunities.”
Lee — who likens Salesforce’s offering to “basically a filing cabinet” — is putting his money where his mouth is with 6Sense, a year-old, 15-person company that helps enterprise customers like Cisco and Pure Storage to determine an account’s overall propensity to buy, help them predict where their prospects are in the buying cycle, and surface new prospects. In fact, this morning, 6Sense is announcing a $12 million Series A round led by Battery and Venrock. I talked with its CEO and cofounder, Amanda Kahlow, late last week to learn more.
You say you figured out the market fit for 6Sense at your last company – a Web analytics consultancy – but had to figure out the technology piece.
A lot of really smart technical founders build [a technology] in search of a business case. We were the opposite. We were a business case looking for a platform. Thankfully, at one meeting with a venture firm, a firm’s CTO [pointed me to] GrepData, a [big data analytics startup that went through the Y Combinator incubator program in late 2012], and when we came together, it was a match made in heaven. I couldn’t be blessed with a better technical cofounder [than GrepData cofounder Premal Shah].
You have lots of competition. How do you differentiate 6Sense from the many other startups doing predictive analytics?
We live in a world where people leave behind a digital footprint, and in the consumer world, that helps companies like Amazon know what you want, likely before you know you want it. But in the [business-to-business] world, [no one has yet] solved the problem because of the complexity and irregularity of the data coming in. What everyone else is doing right now is asking: Is this the profile of the right buyer? But they aren’t asking: Is she going to buy now? Our magic is in taking time-sensitive data [and combining it with unstructured data, like activity on thousands of B2B publishers sites] along with [structured] behavioral data to create a behavioral catalogue to make sense of data across the Web.
Why isn’t Salesforce doing what you do?
The focus of companies like Salesforce has been around the efficiencies of workflow. Which email should you send next? How do you manage the buyer’s process? I do think Salesforce will want to do [what we’re doing], but it’s not trivial. It isn’t something a smart engineer can do tomorrow.
This is your second company. You started your first about a dozen years ago, soon after you’d graduated from college. Why not work for someone else?
I come from a family of entrepreneurs. My dad has been a lifelong entrepreneur, trying to make a go of different software technologies. One of my brothers runs an [e-learning company]; another brother runs a company in the B2B marketing space. [I credit] our dad’s entrepreneurial spirit. We also have a mom who told all of us — almost ad nauseam [laughs] — that we could be anything we wanted to be.
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