Raj Singh: I’m Persevering and I’m Maniacal About Product

Raj Singh

Raj Singh of Pulse — Automatic Status.

Tell us about yourself?

I’ve been building products and startups since 2000 while a Computer Engineering student at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo. Some have been more successful than others. Back then, there wasn’t really an internet and few to little materials available on how to build.

You had to figure things out and that resulted in a lot of creative approaches to build and take products to market. Fast forward to today, I’ve learned a ton but I’m still learning. That is the beauty of startups, what worked yesterday may not work today.

Everything I’ve worked on has had one theme, they are problems I identified with and they were solutions built for my own use.

I’ve certainly tried to work on things that could be useful to others but I found that if I can’t identify with the problem, I just don’t enjoy working on it as much.

I’ve been lucky, though, that I have been able to work on a wide variety of things from mobile video to dating to recipes to gaming; all things stemming from personal pain points or passions.

Today, I’m working on Pulse, automatic status for Slack. Pulse looks at 100s of signals and determines what is the best status to show for you in Slack. Think auto-pilot but for your status.

Pulse was the genesis of my previous startup Tempo AI that was acquired by Salesforce. Tempo was a distributed team but Salesforce was mostly in-office.

After I had left, I’d check-in with my remote team and ask them how things were going and they said they felt disconnected. With Pulse, teams are reporting a better sense of connectedness and camaraderie so we are excited to bring this to more teams.

What do you think is the single biggest misconception people have when it comes to startups?

Many folks who’ve only worked at large companies think of working at a startup as a checkbox, needing to work at a startup to fill their resume. The experience for those who make the switch to startups is mixed.

Some enjoy it, but many are quickly reminded that a lot of the comforts of working at a larger company are lost, a la people actually responding to your emails may not always happen at startups without a brand name. Others think of startups like a get rich scheme.

As someone who has had multiple exits, I can assure you that working on or building startups is the worst way to get wealthy. If you’re seeking to make money, joining a large company with a consistently high compensation package is a much faster and safer way to get wealthy.

You’re certainly unlikely to get “f-u” money but you’ll beat the average startup entrepreneur 95% of the time. Next, many aspire to build their own startups but ultimately never pull the trigger.

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Fear of failure is real and startups are the most public failure of them all. You have to be willing to accept this, much easier said than done. What ultimately happens is these folks get stuck in what I call “analysis paralysis.”

They spend so much time trying to validate, that they never ultimately make it happen. As they say, 99% of people never get past the idea.

Finally, many evaluate a very early stage startup on its idea. If anything I’ve learned after having built multiple startups, where you start and where you end will look vastly different. You will go through zigs, zags, pivots and more.

One investor once described it to me as “jello in motion.” When you start, you have this big piece of jello but as you go along, pieces fall off, it hardens and finally starts to take shape.

If you could go back in time to any moment from your journey, and give yourself one tip, what would it be?

It’s hard to write only one tip 🙂 When I was in my early 20s, it’d certainly have been to drop the ego. There is no room for ego with your core team.

It kills startups. When I was in my late 20s, I certainly should have taken some deals which I didn’t, leaving literally millions on the table. When I got to my 30s, I’d say, my biggest learning looking back is that I should have taken more risks.

Sometimes, you build, things are working, and so you don’t want to change it up. But sometimes, what you need to do is change it up to really accelerate the growth.

It always comes with risk, but slow growth can be a death knell because eventually the market will change and you will no longer be the new shiny object.

What makes you stand out as an entrepreneur?

I’m persevering and I’m maniacal about product. I also spend energy cultivating and maintaining relationships. whichI think it’s a critical part of startup and team building.

What are some of the best working habits you’ve gained over the past couple of years?

An investor once told me, “you only get rich once.” What he was really saying is to focus. He was right. At that time, I had multiple projects and I was dabbling in different things.

That feedback plus having kids made me realize that focusing and prioritizing is key. Today, I’m much better about choosing where to spend my time and identifying what is the most important thing to work on.

The second thing, although I don’t follow this as well as I want with all the responsibilities with kids and more, is making sure I make time to get some exercise.

I have found that with exercise I have more energy, I can be more focused, and I can think more clearly. Exercise is literally part of making me better at my job.

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Give us a bit of an insight into the influences behind the company?

As mentioned above, Pulse was the result of my experiences in working with a distributed team.

Fast forward to the COVID pandemic, most everyone has experienced the pros and cons of distributed work.

The cons most commonly point to feelings of burnout, loneliness, disconnectedness and more. Much of this is attributed to living in basically Slack, Zoom and Teams. These tools are the modern day digital office.

With Pulse, we realized that by making status and emojis front and center, we can impact how people feel, connect and collaborate.

There is a lot of research now showing how emoji and emoji culture, whether in the form of reactions or status can positively impact a company culture.

We’re right in the middle of this and in a time where mental health is more critical than ever, we have an opportunity to really transform workplace culture for the better.

Many think of status as just availability but we’ve learned that status is much more. It’s empathy, it’s expression, it’s an opportunity to learn about each other.

Much of our secret sauce at Pulse is figuring out what is the best thing to show at any given point in time from 1000s of signals to optimize against your or your company’s goals.

Where do you see your business in five years?

Practically every application, whether consumer or business has some form of status. Some are very superficial like in Facebook where it might simply indicate that you are online.

Others are more rich like in Google Drive where it might also show some recent activity. Pulse has the opportunity to own the status layer. We believe status is part of the future of work, particularly in this distributed and hybrid working environment.

We are starting by automating status in your digital workplace communication tools like Slack and Microsoft Teams. But our goal is to ultimately platformitize status and own the whole layer.

We’ve integrated 100s of data sources already and have built APIs so other sources can publish to us. On the other side, we have APIs so you can subscribe to your own status.

We had one developer that used this to feed status into a virtual world they were building. We had another developer that fed status into a display so he could indicate to his colleagues when he was in focus so they wouldn’t disturb him at inopportune times.

What do you think the biggest challenge will be for you in getting there?

To make status work requires playing in the middle of a very fragmented ecosystem. This means needing APIs on both sides whether into the various sources of data or into the various endpoints that can benefit from automated status.

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Making sure that we can plug into all of the different systems we need certainly is our biggest product challenge.

From a go-to-market perspective, driving growth is always challenging. That said, we are seeing teams report incredible statistics from improvements in workplace happiness to more focus time and more.

We will continue to capitalize on this to drive more and more growth across teams.

Talk to us about your biggest success story so far?

The best feeling in a startup is the day you receive your first piece of feedback from a user who says they love your product. The next best feeling is when you receive the second piece of feedback from a user who loves your product.

What’s been great is we get customer appreciation shared with us almost everyday on email. Even more, we get updates from our billing provider of new users upgrading the service. It’s been incredible and it drives team morale and more.

I consider this our greatest success. Certainly, putting together a stellar team, launching a great product, driving virality, getting great investors and more are all on par — but nothing beats a happy customer.

How do clients and customers find you? Are you much of a salesperson for yourself?

The hot topic in SAAS products is product-led growth. We write a lot of articles and publish a lot of content about the future of work and more. Users discover us via Google or word-of-mouth. They install Pulse and then we often go viral in the many workspaces where we are adopted.

It is completely product-led growth. We certainly get a fair number of companies who also ping us for broader team deployments and that has been great as well.

In these instances, we often do a demo with the right stakeholders and then they deploy across their teams. I wouldn’t call myself a salesperson, probably an antiquated term, but I certainly do demos and more.

What one tip would you give to fellow startup founders?

As they say the highs are really high and the lows are really low. It’s easy to let this wear you down. Persevere, keep iterating and you’ll hopefully figure it out.

Don’t be afraid to fail, iterate, fix, try again.

And finally, what do you hope the future brings both you personally, and your business?

Personally, now that we’re past the pandemic, I’ve been enjoying returning to some hobbies such as jiu jitsu that were shutdown for most of the pandemic.

Raising my two kids is also a ball of joy. Professionally, excited to make Pulse a standard part of every company’s stack.

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