Editor’s note: OpsPanda puts an end to having to deal with massive spreadsheets when planning for operational units within companies. In this interview, CEO Jon Kondo discusses how OpsPanda’s SaaS product helps customers, the company’s journey out of stealth and his insights for other CEOs from his 30 years of software and sales experience.
Please briefly describe your company, product and market.
Jon Kondo: Robert Gersten, Hung Vo and I co-founded OpsPanda on the idea of building an application that allows sales leaders, sales operations and finance to take the expert knowledge they try to translate into a spreadsheet and put it into a robust application that’s easy to use.
How did your company originate — what inspired you to launch the company and what was the original vision/hope?
Jon Kondo: Before starting OpsPanda, I wondered if founding a company came from a grand “aha” moment. When I talked to other founders, I realized their ideas were often based on aha moments and personal experience dealing with a problem or challenge and figuring out there must be a better way. TopOPPS founder Jim Eberlin earlier founded my former company Host Analytics and then founded Gainsight from his experience at Host due to his aha moment of figuring out how to keep customers happy and successful.
My inspiration for OpsPanda came from many years as a sales leader working with finance and my sales operations person on our sales resource plan. I spent hours staring at spreadsheets trying to figure out which cell link was broken. As I got Robert and Hung involved, we talked to lots of people in sales and asked them how they dealt with the challenge, and all had the same answer – a massive spreadsheet.
Is there a story behind your company name?
Jon Kondo: We focus on planning for operational units within companies, namely sales, so I played with the words “Operations Planning and Analysis.” This led us to Ops Planning and Analysis, OpsPandA, then OpsPanda. As a bonus, my youngest daughter’s nickname is Panda, so she tells her sisters that the company is named for her.
You and your co-founders are veterans in Enterprise Performance Management (EPM) software and in leadership roles in well-established software companies. Even with experienced leaders, all startups encounter challenges. What is an expectation that you had at the outset that you subsequently had to change, and why?
Jon Kondo: We underestimated how complex a problem this is for customers. Hung, our CTO, reminds me often that I sold him on how easy an application this would be to build. As we worked with prospects and customers, we discovered how challenging and critical it is to solve.
OpsPanda was in stealth mode until February 9. Do you have any advice for other startups regarding operating in stealth mode?
Jon Kondo: I’d tell entrepreneurs to be “stealthy,” but not too much. It’s imperative to discuss the problem you are trying to solve and ask people their opinions. We got great feedback and ideas talking with hundreds of people in sales and sales operations prior to building our product. We also were clear about our vision and areas that we were not tackling so we could have meaningful conversations with potential partners about how we add value to their offering.
How did you and your OpsPanda team celebrate the launch and coming out of stealth?
Jon Kondo: I joked that with the launch and Series A funding coinciding the week of Super Bowl 50 in the Bay Area, it was like we threw a big party without spending a dime of investor money. Over lunch at our favorite place, the Palo Alto Creamery, we decided we would celebrate everything when we hit our first half MRR (monthly recurring revenue) milestone.
How did OpsPanda get its first customer?
Jon Kondo: Our first customers emerged from my network of friends and former colleagues. They all started as early users giving us great feedback and now use the application.
How did you get the first investor for OpsPanda? How did you convince your first investor about your product differentiation?
Jon Kondo: Finding the right investors – not just the first investors – has worked out very well for us. Robert Gersten and I knew Tim Connors from PivotNorth Capital for several years prior to his leading our seed round. We went to Tim for early validation about our idea, and he was instrumental in helping to shape our thesis and the validation we needed. From the beginning he really got what we are doing and saw many of his current and former portfolio companies struggle with this challenge.
In your career prior to founding OpsPanda, what is one of the biggest mistakes you observed another software CEO make that you learned from?
Jon Kondo: As a former CEO, I’ll include myself in this group. One lesson is to trust your instincts. When you’re a CEO, especially the first time, you get a lot of input from all sides and sometimes you have to trust your instincts over everything else.
Another thing I’ve learned is that it’s vital that you look for passion – not just pedigree – when hiring. In the early stages it’s critical to find people who share your passion – passion over work experience or education. If you can bring someone on the team with all three, all the better.
Finally, leverage your network. Many of our services are provided by former colleagues and friends such as our attorney, accountant and PR person; even our logo was designed by a guy who I hired straight out of college almost 20 years ago.
Did your company change direction at some point during product development? If so, please describe what led up to the change.
Jon Kondo: Our product direction has remained focused on eliminating the gap between sales targets, goals and results. That said, the more we peel back the layers in solving this complex problem, the more we see opportunities to lead innovation. There are so many cool things on the idea board.
How did you determine the right pricing for your product?
Jon Kondo: This is one that we are still working on. We have an initial thesis, but we continue to work with customers and watch the market.
From your observation, what is the most challenging aspect of innovation, and how have you overcome that challenge at your company?
Jon Kondo: Since I use our product every day in our business, I tell Hung, “wouldn’t it be cool if” or “I can’t wait until we add this.” There’s no shortage of ideas about what to innovate on, but it’s about focusing on priorities. Staying focused and constantly reexamining priorities is critical to moving a product forward.
What is the last interesting book you read (business oriented or not)? What did you like about it?
Jon Kondo: “The Martian.” I liked the fact that astronaut Mark Watney (played by Matt Damon in the movie) had to figure everything out himself and draw on his instincts in an uncharted world while completely cut off. What a perfect analogy to entrepreneurship. I also admired the team in space and on the ground problem solving to get him home. In that way, startups and space missions have a lot in common.
What is the best advice you ever received about being a startup CEO?
Jon Kondo: Godfrey Sullivan, chairman and CEO of Splunk and former CEO at Hyperion – someone I consider a mentor – once told me not to think about what’s next but think instead about where I want to end up and then work backwards. Think about the experiences you’ll need to have to get there – and build them.
This has helped me with my career and how I think about building a company. When I imagine the customer experiences I want us to deliver when OpsPanda is thriving in the future, it informs decisions I make today about what blocks we need to build to work towards that point.
What is your top advice for first-time entrepreneurs or startup CEOs?
Jon Kondo: I was just talking to another entrepreneur about lessons I’ve learned as he thinks through how to productize an idea, raise money and build a company. I told him nothing replaces real customer feedback, but it’s important to get the right first set of customers. Landing the “whale” as a first customer may be tempting, but you might find yourself becoming a custom development shop for their specific needs. Find customers whose feedback you can use in the product to take to a broad market.
Second, find great investors and know who you’ll be working with. There are a lot of strong firms, but it’s super important to have a great relationship with the partner you’ll be working directly with. TDF Ventures led our Series A, and I am so happy Steve Mankoff is joining our board. Steve is a seasoned pro and knows the space really well from his Siebel days. He has already jumped in and helps tremendously. We are fortunate to have Steve and Tim as investors working with us.
Jon Kondo is co-founder and CEO of OpsPanda, a SaaS startup focused on sales resource planning. Jon brings over 30 years of sales experience and credits his first salesmanship lessons to a family friend who taught him how to sell car wash tickets using value-based selling. Jon’s career has taken him from walking door-to-door cold calling offices to executive meetings in boardrooms all over the world. He was formerly CEO at Host Analytics and held several sales leadership positions at Hyperion/Oracle including GM of the Americas. Follow him on Twitter @OpsPandaInc or @jonkondo.