Recently we got to catch up with Wojciech Gryc, CEO /Co-founder of Canopy Labs. During our interview he introduces us to Canopy Labs and shares with us some lessons from the early stages of starting his company. Canopy Labs is a Y Combinator company and is based in San Francisco, California.
What is Canopy Labs all about?
Canopy Labs is about automating the way enterprises perform customer analytics. We have a platform that takes any type of customer data a company has — be it transactions, purchase orders, text-based feedback, or even voice recordings from call centers, and converts this information into predictions about a customer’s actions. Our platform tells a business which products a customer wants to buy, and whether or not they are happy customers.
In short, imagine if every small and medium-sized business had the ability to provide personalized experiences in the same way that Amazon and NetFlix do. Businesses like these are the engines that make our economy run, and helping them improve their customers’ experiences and ultimately increase their own revenue is a vision that excites all of us.
How did you come up with the idea for Canopy Labs?
I’ve been working in the customer analytics space for the past ~7 years. Having seen it as a machine learning researcher and as a consultant, I worked on dozens of customer analytics projects in a very manual way. Even today, such projects tend to be laborious, expensive, and time consuming. Most consultants and researchers will spend months re-organizing and cleaning data so their statistical tools can build proper models. This is inefficient and, to be perfectly honest, not very fun.
Businesses get excited about customer analytics because it can ultimately drive sales and allow them to increase revenue. Unfortunately, these initiatives usually get mired in the labor and time requirements I mentioned above. As such, I gave myself a challenge: to create a platform that automates much of the laborious, boring, time consuming tasks around customer analytics so that markers, sales teams, and data scientists can do what matters most — build effective models and use them to drive sales.
It’s been a challenge building such a platform, but we feel we’ve really cracked the nut. We’re excited to see businesses starting to use our platform, and it’s nice to see they’re excited too.
What were some of the challenges that you faced starting a company?
Always keep three words in the back of your mind when starting your company: “product market fit”. When starting a startup, make sure you’re developing an actual product, and that you’re developing it for a market that actually wants or needs it. This is particularly true for B2B and enterprise startups, where “cool technical widgets” don’t always sell well, and you can easily get bogged down in consulting projects. Remind yourself of those three words, particularly early on. If you’re technical, don’t forget the market. If you’re a marketer, don’t forget the product.
You took part in the Y Combinator accelerator program, what difference do you feel being part of an accelerator made to your company?
Our Y Combinator experience was a life changing one. We joined a community of extremely talented and ambitious individuals, all bent on changing the world and working hard to do so. Such an environment motivates everyone to be successful, and provides a great benchmark for tracking your own business’s development — you see the others around you making successful products or marketing campaigns, and you learn from them.
Aside from the community, the network of mentors attached to Y Combinator has been an invaluable source of advice, pragmatism, and support. It’s tough to start a business, particularly one focused on high growth and the development of new technologies. As such, having a network of mentors who has done it before, can help guide you, or simply provide a few words of support on a tough day are all invaluable.
Plus, YC’s weekly dinners are a lot of fun.
What advice would you give to an entrepreneur looking to get their company into an accelerator program?
Starting a new company often requires that you quit your existing job, enter a new (potentially unexplored) space, and pick up a skillset you’re not familiar with. All of these can be extremely daunting, as you’re ultimately leaving your comfort zone. I follow three pieces of advice around taking such a leap and ensuring I’m moving forward and keeping myself honest:
- Set clear, quantifiable metrics for success. I set a personal sales target for Year 1 of Canopy Labs, both to force myself to learn how to sell, and to ensure our product was worthy of selling. We surpassed our targets and we feel great about where we are.
- Start every week by listing the 4-5 challenges you’re facing, with a list of 2-3 things you can do to overcome them. This makes it easy to deal with your biggest fears, but also ensures you have a plan of action for your most important things to do.
- Finally, have someone you can rant to every day. Be it your wife, parents, best friend, or anyone who will listen. It’s good to vent and allows you to become a bit more rational once you cool off.
When starting Canopy Labs, one of my mentors told me that “success in business requires a personal transformation”. I truly believe that the success of your startup is dependent on how effective you are as a leader, planner, product developer, and sales person.
Results-driven people who overcome challenges rationally and quickly will do well in startups — with or without an accelerator. Such a mindset will help you get into whichever programs are right for you.
What advice would you like to give to an entrepreneur thinking about writing their first business plan?
Don’t overthink the business plan. Opening Excel and spending a month building financial models with detailed projections might impress a some investors, but won’t actually make your business successful. Besides, most seasoned investors and entrepreneurs know that most assumptions fail and most metrics will have to be changed.
Instead, focus your business plan on truly understanding the market and even getting a few testimonials about your product or idea. A business plan containing quotes from potential customers or testimonials around an early-stage product is much more exciting than a theoretical argument around your business’s potential growth rate.
As with your own business, approach the business plan with the “product market fit” mentality. Show a product idea and a market willing to pay for it; the other details will then flow naturally
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