As part of the UserActive Founder Interview series, Peter chats with Rushi Ganmukhi, CEO and Founder of Bola AI. But what’s the secret behind Bola AI’s success? Bola AI has a clear niche. They focus on targeted use cases that are highly repetitive and data-intensive (more on that in the interview!) Rushi’s background as a researcher at MIT in language processing has paved the way for Bola AI’s innovative voice technology solutions.
In our conversation, he shares some valuable insights on:
- How he picked his niche and why this has contributed to their success
- The challenges of being a SaaS Founder and how Rushi navigates competing priorities
- The Power of Connections. His surprise at the willingness of industry leaders to lend a helping hand while building the company
Finding a Profitable SaaS Niche
Founder Interview Introduction
[00:00:06.920] – Peter
Okay. I’m here today speaking with Rushi Ganmukhi from Bola AI. Hey, Rushi, thank you so much for joining me today. Would you like to introduce yourself, tell us a bit about who you are and what you do?
[00:00:17.700] – Rushi
Sure thing. Thanks for having me, Peter. So, yeah. As mentioned, I’m Rushi Ganmukhi, CEO and founder of Bola AI. Personally, my background is in AI and machine learning. I know it’s really hot topic right now. So excited to talk about that. I was a researcher at MIT for a few years in the areas of language processing, basically getting computers to understand human language. It’s a monumental task.
[00:00:45.410] – Rushi
I come from an entrepreneurial family, so I always knew I wanted to start something. So I started this a few years ago. Voice technology was really taking off at the time. Google, home, Alexa, everything was going to be conversational. That was the hype at the time. No more GUI, none of that stuff. But took a little more practical approach of which markets can voice technology really help in. Did a whole search, and actually, healthcare came up pretty quickly. There’s, of course, some players in healthcare, but I’ll talk about how we’re different and within healthcare. Dental, where we’re in right now, the current market we’re in right now, was a really great starting point for us. So that’s where the company is today, is we produce voice assistance for dental procedures.
[00:01:35.410] – Rushi
So imagine the dentist is going through your mouth, the hygienist is going through your mouth, doing their routine checks. This allows them to speak naturally, and our solution records what they’re saying, inputs it directly into their electronic medical record. And so it’s been going great.
[00:01:55.280] – Peter
Okay. Awesome. Okay, so I love the way that you researched and you found this niche. You started building technology, which sounds like quite cutting edge technology, too. And you’ve got some AI, and you’ve got voice activation. How did you build the product?
[00:02:11.940] – Rushi
Yes, so when we were starting out, as mentioned, Peter, we did a whole search of where… We knew we wanted voice technology. We knew one of the things, the big thing we do differently is we really look at these targeted use cases that are highly repetitive, highly mundane for the user themselves that they don’t want to do, but they’re really repetitive and they’re data intense. Lot of numbers, lot of things to memorise, things that would make your head hurt, basically. And so we did a huge search for use cases like this. And I remember in the early days, it was so much fun. Every Friday afternoon, we used to go to dental offices. We looked at car mechanics, voice enabling, that stuff. And then when we kind of settled on dental after those investigations.
[00:03:06.510] – Peter
Fantastic. You have taken some funding. Did you say you’re angel funded so far? Did you use some of your own cash bootstrapping and then get some investment and kind of what did you raise and how did you kind of invest that money into developing the product?
Benefits of a niche
[00:03:26.790] – Rushi
Yeah, so we are angel funded today. No institutional VCs to date yet, but yeah, the key thing there is you got to be efficient. You’ve got to be efficient. And fortunately, we’ve worked with some big partners that have allowed us to grow fast and have boosted some of our statistics to help that, but it’s definitely tough. But the good thing is I think you build a really solid foundation for the company. It really focuses you.
[00:03:56.110] – Peter
Yeah, definitely. Using your resources wisely. So tell me about the benefits of launching into a small vertical or a focused niche like the dental space. Did that help you in terms of getting traction, getting started?
[00:04:12.860] – Rushi
Yes. So I think this is one of the hardest things, and I think it’s the one of the hardest pieces of startup advice to follow is you read online and everyone says, build something for a small group of people that they will love like love like anything. And you want to focus on that big picture. Y
ou want to focus on that huge company, huge growth, but you’ve really got to start at that fundamental block, and it’s the hardest thing to do, and you have to be disciplined. And we probably didn’t pay attention to that advice a few times as well, but it is truly powerful when you build something for a specific set of users and you can meet with them, you can see what they’re doing, you can build to that as well. It gives you immense product input. It gives you a singular source of product input and product design input, which is tremendously beneficial. Also, it’s easier to keep a smaller set of more focused set of customers happy. So typically, I think vertical SaaS companies see lower churn.
[00:05:19.620] – Peter
So that’s been a really great way, and you’ve been able to do a great job of launching into a vertical that way. As a SaaS founder, what have you found to be the biggest challenges for you taking on this project?
[00:05:35.800] – Rushi
Yes. So I think one of the things at a higher level is definitely just priorities that buttheads. Let’s say it’s July now, so we’re hyper focused on making sure we hit July numbers. We only have a few days making sure we clean up those numbers and hit the monthly targets.
But at the same time, we want to make sure we’re focused on the vision of the company and we’re accomplishing strategic projects that get us in the end of next year to where we want to be. And those are really contradictory things, but you have to be able to do both, and you have to find that sweet balance. Peter, it’s actually the same thing I talked about with the building to a vertical or a niche group of users, but you also want that huge market potential. So again, those two things butt heads, but you need to be able to find that balance and find your peace in the middle.
[00:06:30.520] – Peter
Is there anything that you’ve been able to do or mindset or practical thing that’s helped you to navigate that?
[00:06:37.980] – Rushi
Yeah, I think a big thing that I do is scheduling my time. So saying, okay, this amount of time, this hour block, I’m going to be really focused with the engineering team on these minute details that they’re working on. I like to take my Friday afternoons roughly and just kind of keep that as CEO time. So if I want to do any strategic thought, if I want to do any even just brainstorming writing in my notebook type work, I like to keep that for Friday afternoon and breaking it up in the calendar makes it really helpful because otherwise your desire is to jump around and that never works. Basically.
[00:07:16.440] – Peter
Yeah, that kind of context switching is quite costly in terms of the efficiency and output of your work.
[00:07:22.590] – Rushi
[00:07:25.180] – Peter
I like that time, scheduling, blocking out time. And then you mentioned to me earlier about how you were pleasantly surprised by reaching out to partners and how willing people are to support and help. Could you tell us a bit more about that? Because it’s been a really interesting experience for you as a founder.
[00:07:45.100] – Rushi
Yeah, that was incredibly interesting. And naturally, I’m a pretty shy guy. I was an engineer. I fit that mould a little bit. And so starting this company, I was shocked at how helpful and how open people can be. For instance, we met actually our biggest partner, who’s the biggest name in the dental industry, Henry Schein One, just fabulous partner of ours. They were our first partner, which was a monumental win for the company, but we actually met them at a conference. We started speaking to them, and we showed him what we had, and we were talking to the guy, and he loved it, and you could see the light go off. And he was willing to introduce us to some of the other teams there, and they were just willing to talk to us.
As a founder, as a small company, you never think that’s the case. You really don’t. But I’ve been always pleasantly surprised by that. Even customers, if you come up with an idea, they spend the time to just grab a coffee with you 30 minutes out of their day, where they could be doing something they like or working, and they’re willing to spend the time with you and help you out.
[00:08:57.310] – Rushi
And it’s really fabulous. And you feel that camaraderie with your customers and your partners because they’re so open to helping you.
[00:09:08.170] – Peter
That’s great. So has that encouraged you to do that more? Leverage, more the relationships and seek out… What kind of things are you looking for information or sense checking ideas you have? Or figuring out how to do something?
Learning from a niche target audience
[00:09:24.560] – Rushi
Yeah, so sometimes it’s introductions. Like, hey, you guys know this person mind introducing me? That’s always a big favour to ask, but a lot of times it’s sense checking ideas, sitting down with a customer and talking them through what you’re thinking and knowing full well that you could be completely off basis and just completely wrong, but they’ll still spend the time with you to walk you through what they’re doing. Dental is very different. It’s not my background and same with medical. So we require a lot of input from our customers to really walk us through exactly what they’re doing and why they’re doing it. It’s very different than my day to day. So it requires a lot of time.
[00:10:06.480] – Peter
Yeah, I guess since you’re coming from outside of the dental industry, you’ve had to learn and understand the practises and how they work. So I guess there was a process and a period of before or at the beginning of building your product where you were really just kind of discovering and learning from your target audience.
[00:10:27.240] – Rushi
Exactly. And the easiest thing is just to be thrown into the fire. So I went to a dental office and I sat there for a week, two weeks, and just watched what was going on and it blew my mind. It’s very different from when you’re sitting there as a patient. You actually look at what they’re doing. It’s very alien and foreign to you. You will not… Very weird, and then slowly you digest it and you bring on a few advisors who can help you understand what’s going on. But it was a fun process and I definitely know way more about the dental and medical industry than I ever thought I would.
[00:11:03.920] – Peter
Just out of curiosity, what stood out a lot to you from that world? Is it like a lot of data gathering and data input or was it like the technical elements of the dental care?
[00:11:17.380] – Rushi
Yeah, I think it’s just their whole process and what their day looks like. They’re always on their feet, they’re running around, they’re doing a lot of stuff. They’re extremely smart people and they’re extremely busy and they’re shooting off emails to patients when they get a chance. They’re filling in the data from a procedure when they get a chance, but it can be very hectic and you can see where they need efficiency and they need help with efficiency.
[00:11:51.260] – Peter
I see. Yeah.
[00:11:52.240] – Peter
It’s quite different from what from, you know, I love seeing different industries like that. When you come from tech and you’re working long days with computers or in meetings and you see people on their feet all day. Such a different kind of approach. Okay, so, Rushi, what are your plans with the product? Where are you planning to take Bola AI and what are your plans for the future?
[00:12:18.360] – Rushi
Yeah, so it’s been a great few years growing this. We’re at a few thousand customers loving our product, giving us great feedback. So we continue to build in dental and are building new voice use cases, but also have an eye on the future that a lot of doctors have approached us. Specifically, doctors who do, like specialties and specific procedures have approached us with ideas for what they think we could do. And so we’re currently exploring those, currently exploring some partnerships. And I think that’s a big future potential for the company. And it’s really exciting because I get to learn the whole company gets to learn a new use case, gets to build a slightly different product. It’s really exciting.
[00:13:06.120] – Peter
That sounds great, Rushi. I look forward to seeing how things develop and how you get on. But yeah, it’s been great to talk with you. How can people connect or follow you? What’s the best way for them to follow you or also cheque out your product?
[00:13:18.360] – Rushi
Oh, perfect. Yeah. So come to our website, www.bola.ai. You can see all the information there. Feel free to reach out to there’s a sales lead form, but you can reach out on that.
[00:13:32.320] – Peter
Okay, great stuff. Awesome. Rushi, all the best. Great to speak with you again, and we’ll see you around. Take care.
[00:13:38.630] – Rushi
Perfect. Thank you so much.
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