Greg Reffner is the Founder and CEO at Abstrakt
As one of the very first power users of Conversational Intelligence as an Account Executive, Greg fell in love with how technology-enabled his success.
As Abstrakt’s leader, his vision and “why” is to help every sales rep and leader avoid the pain of missing their number.
Connect with Greg on LinkedIn.
What You’ll Learn In This Episode
- Developing software for real-time
- How to start a technical company, not being a technical founder
- Startup showdown experience
- Conversational Intelligence vs. Real-Time Call Coaching Software
- Roadmap of what’s next for Abstrakt
This transcript is machine transcribed by Sonix
Intro: [00:00:08] Welcome back to the Startup Showdown podcast, where we discuss pitching, funding and scaling startups. Join us as we interview winners, mentors and judges of the monthly 120,000 pitch competition powered by Panoramic Ventures. We also discuss the latest updates in software Web three, health care, tech, fintech and more. Now sit tight as we interview our guest and explore their journey through entrepreneurship.
Lee Kantor: [00:00:45] Lee Kantor here another episode of Start Up Showdown Radio, and this is going to be a good one. But before we get started, it’s important to recognize our sponsor Panoramic Ventures. Without them, we couldn’t be sharing these important stories today on start up showdown radio, we have Greg Reffner with Abstrakt. Welcome, Greg.
Greg Reffner : [00:01:05] Hey, thanks for having me. Excited to be here and kind of dove into some of the details of our experience and kind of what we’ve learned along the way.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:11] Well, before we get too far into things, just tell us kind of about abstract how you serving folks?
Greg Reffner : [00:01:18] Yeah. So we are a real time coaching software that essentially is you’re always on sales coach, so imagine you’re on a sales call and an objection comes up that you’ve never heard before. Well, abstract is listening to that conversation and then in real time providing insights or recommend and responses to sales reps so they know exactly how to answer that question and don’t lose that opportunity.
Lee Kantor: [00:01:43] So this is just kind of happening in a stream on the side or something as I’m interacting with the prospect.
Greg Reffner : [00:01:50] Yeah. So imagine I’m kind of looking at my computer through a zoom call or on a phone call and yeah, based upon what’s happening in the conversation, there’s we call it our heads up display is on your desktop and it pops up and says recognizes that they said, Hey, this is too expensive or call me back later. And in about 0.2 seconds, there’s a little called a recommended response card that pops up and says, Hey, they said this, you say that.
Lee Kantor: [00:02:18] So what was the genesis of the idea?
Greg Reffner : [00:02:21] Yeah. So it kind of started about eight years or so ago when I first started my career as an SDR called Calling every single day. And back then the tools that sales managers relied upon to coach their team were largely two things. One was called Whisper and one was called Barge. And what Whisper would do is it allow a manager to tap into a phone call while it was happening and in one ear tell the sales rep what to say. While the sales rep was supposed to be paying attention to what the prospect was saying in the other ear, it was very distracting, didn’t work very well. So that’s kind of my early exposure to call coaching sales, coaching software, and that evolved into tools that most people know today as conversational intelligence tools like Gong and Chorus. And I was a very early adopter of those. I love those technologies attribute much of my success to being able to use those technologies effectively. And a couple of years ago I was using a speech to text on my iPhone, talking with my wife about what we wanted to name our first born son. And I was kind of like, Why aren’t we using this type of technology in B2B software sales? And kind of one thing led to another. And I realized that it was actually quite hard to do automated speech recognition in real time, kind of at scale. And so kind of early exposure to painful coaching tools, early adopter of technology that was coming out along with a chance kind of thought in my mind as to speech the text and how it could be applied to sales is kind of looking back the breadcrumbs that made up what an abstract is today.
Lee Kantor: [00:04:11] So you’re not a technologist, you are a practitioner?
Greg Reffner : [00:04:18] Yes, I am definitely not a technologist. I know what code looks like, but I wouldn’t be able to tell you how to write it or if it’s good code.
Lee Kantor: [00:04:26] But you were able to find kind of a a problem to be solved and you were able to communicate that with people who know the technology.
Greg Reffner : [00:04:37] Yeah. So that was it was interesting because I, I knew the problem I wanted to solve and being a non technical person, being able to take that problem and communicate it in a way to technical person that would start to paint the picture for kind of what the, how the technology could be built was a challenge. And ultimately I spent a long time in there was actually I spoke with 37 different kind of development firms before I found somebody who understood what I was trying to do. I felt like it could be done and was willing to invest the time with me to actually try to build a proof of concept. So it’s definitely a challenge being the practitioner, as you said, and not the actual technology person behind building it, because going out and finding someone to help you build is definitely a challenge.
Lee Kantor: [00:05:35] Now, any advice for other non-technical founders to kind of find that right fit? Because I’m. Sure. As you mentioned, you had to kiss a lot of frogs, right, in order to find the right fit for yourself.
Greg Reffner : [00:05:51] Yeah. So I think there’s a there’s a website called Co Founders Lab, and that’s ultimately where I found my technical cofounding team. So I think just like kind of anything today, there’s resources out there. So Co Founders Lab, there’s a couple LinkedIn groups for sales, marketing, operational type folks looking for technical co-founders. So there’s, there’s resources out there for non-technical people to find technical people because it makes sense. There’s probably technical people in the world that are looking for their their counterpart from a sales marketing operational perspective. So there’s there’s websites, there’s resources, there’s groups, there’s meetups for people that want to find those technical cofounders. You don’t have to kind of just kiss a lot of frogs. There’s actually kind of very, very, very good groups and networks out there already established. You just got to find them in your area.
Lee Kantor: [00:06:54] Yeah, it seems like there’s a platform or a marketplace for pretty much everything nowadays.
Greg Reffner : [00:06:59] I would say it’s a fair statement. Yes, sir.
Lee Kantor: [00:07:02] So now let’s talk kind of the beginning, beginning of your career. You mentioned you spent some time as an SDR, but what was when you were younger? What was your kind of dream to become? Was it always an entrepreneur, always a founder?
Greg Reffner : [00:07:17] Yes. I wanted to become a fighter pilot in high school, and it turns out my eyesight wasn’t good enough to be a fighter pilot. And they told me that I could work on planes if I went and got a mechanical or aerospace engineering degree. And so that was what my original degree was going to be. And when I went to college and it took me all of about three weeks to figure out that Friday morning classes, combined with my interest in joining the fraternity, did not make sense. They weren’t going to turn out too well for me. So I went back and forth, changed my major, I think five or six times. I ended up getting kicked out of college, believe it or not, because I didn’t go to any classes. And a couple of years later I invented a piece of exercise equipment, fell in love with the idea of inventing things and kind of taking a napkin drawing and turn it into something that people use was moderately successful at doing that, but I had no idea what I was doing from a business perspective. I ended up running out of money, running that company into the ground, and ultimately just realized that I kind of enjoyed that process. I love the idea of working for myself, but I didn’t know anything about how to run a company or even market or sell a company. And so that’s when I was like, okay, I need to get into the ground floor somewhere and start my career cold calling, building sales funnels, building pipeline. And that’s when I made my way into the world of being an SDR.
Lee Kantor: [00:08:53] So going through that process and learning other people’s systems on how to work a funnel and, and, you know, participate in the moving of prospect through the funnel that was foundational for you in terms of abstract. Like those, those learnings sound like they kind of set the stage. You had the entrepreneurial drive, but that gave you some tools maybe to to help make abstracts successful.
Greg Reffner : [00:09:17] I think so. I mean, ultimately, I think when I talk with. My peers that are kind of going through the same stage where abstract is one of the problems they have is they don’t know sales and marketing. They wouldn’t know how to tell you how to build a marketing funnel or a lead generation engine. They wouldn’t know how to sell their own software. And so I feel like I don’t have that problem. I feel very confident and comfortable in that. And I can attribute a lot of what I know today to what I learned. Being okay. Kind of stepping back and joining a company called Axon Software as an SDR. I think it was foundational to kind of laying the groundwork for where we are today.
Lee Kantor: [00:10:08] So now you got to participate in this kind of transition from conversational intelligence to real time call coaching software.
Greg Reffner : [00:10:18] Yeah. Yep. Yes, sir.
Lee Kantor: [00:10:20] So you were able to kind of see the the trade offs in each one of those, and then how abstract is maybe a better way, a better solution?
Greg Reffner : [00:10:31] Yeah. So as one of our early customers put it, he said, with conversational intelligence tools out there today, it’s like finding the black box after the plane’s already gone down. It tells you what went wrong, what broke, what you could have done better. But you only find that after you’ve already lost the opportunity. And with abstracts, I imagine autopilot kicks in when things go wrong and saves the opportunity. And so it was kind of a natural progression. When you look around as consumers, we have things in our cars that drive our cars for us. When we’re not paying attention, we have things on our phone that help us to do things when we’re maybe not organized as we should be. We have tools in our house that automate some things that we don’t want to think about anymore. And so it just it becomes like this natural progression in the B2B world to to start to think about how technology can be used in the same way to help us avoid those lost opportunities, as opposed to only waiting until to find out they were lost until after they’ve already been lost.
Lee Kantor: [00:11:49] Right. Like, instead of doing the autopsy, you’re kind of solving the problem and saving them in real life.
Greg Reffner : [00:11:56] Exactly. Absolutely.
Lee Kantor: [00:11:57] Now is how from a technology standpoint, were you able to not only kind of capture good enough content where it’s understanding the context of what’s being said? Because a lot of times their subtext during a conversation and to to bubble up the right information for that sales person that, you know, in that speed. At that speed.
Greg Reffner : [00:12:25] Oh, that’s the million dollar question if you ask. So I asked one of our first solutions architects was a guy named Josh, and I asked Josh that same question, like, how did we figure this out? And his answer still kind of sticks with me today because he said, Honestly, Greg, we didn’t know what we didn’t know. And we didn’t come in with any preconceived notions of how things should be built. And what he meant by that was there’s a lot of companies out there today that are worth billions of dollars, have more money in the bank that they know how to do it, that haven’t been able to figure out what we figured out. And so we were able to look at. Building abstract without kind of preconceived notions of how software should be built in the first place. And as a result of that, we were able to do some pretty interesting things through some algorithms changing the way in which we tapped into cloud servers using sound cards on computers. And we weren’t constrained by. The the status quo of how software is built today because the team that said yes hadn’t ever really built a B2B software application before. And so we came at this from a very creative perspective. We came at it with eyes wide open. And honestly, one of the one of the algorithms that we use, Lee, was written in 1954. We went back in time to see how the first people who are trying to diagnose audio streams and audio channels looked at using mathematical equations to understand audio. And we applied those principles into our software. And as a result, we were able to build abstract.
Lee Kantor: [00:14:24] Well, it’s an amazing story. How did you hear about Startup Showdown and Panoramic Ventures? What got them on your radar?
Greg Reffner : [00:14:33] Yeah, so I was introduced to a couple of the guys, Dustin and Faraj, back in May of 2021 through a mutual connection. I had introduced Abstract to this mutual connection. She’s like, Hey, you got to compete in this thing called Startup Showdown. And I was like, What? I don’t know anything about this. And so I reached out to the Startup Showdown guys, and submitted my deck and made it to the semifinals, actually, the first time. And after Mentor Day, I got some feedback that that the team at Panoramic didn’t really think that abstract could be built or that we could get it live kind of working in the wild. And they said, hey, come back to us when if you’ve made any progress. And I kind of took that as a challenge.
Lee Kantor: [00:15:24] And now it’s personal now.
Greg Reffner : [00:15:27] All right. Don’t tell me. And so a couple it must have been a couple of days before the semifinalists round of the last month’s competition where I saw something on LinkedIn about it. And so I reached out to the Tammy and Dustin. I was like, Hey, I already competed in this thing once. Can I compete again? Here’s the traction I’ve made. And they’re like, Absolutely, submit it. So it made the semifinalists. I made the finalist round. And I guess the rest is history. But this was actually the second time that I came back to the start up showdown.
Lee Kantor: [00:16:07] So now can you share a little bit about what you got out of this process of going through the startup shutdown process that you feel was most beneficial? You know, doing these kind of events, they’re a job unto itself. And it can be I don’t want to say a distraction, but it’s just another thing on your plate. And this is all work that has to be done. But, you know, when you’re trying to build software like you are, you’ve got a lot on your plate. How did this process help you and ultimately get to the goals that you’re aiming for?
Greg Reffner : [00:16:45] Yeah. So I think some of the when you’re going to like Mentor Day. It’s one of the valuable things there is. You’re getting kind of rapid fire feedback on your deck and. As I went through Mentor Day and then had the opportunity to sit down with Paul before and kind of go over my deck again. One of the things that I realized that hadn’t been pointed out to me before is that my deck did a really good job of selling the company, but it did nothing to emotionally draw people into the story or the vision behind the product and why I wanted to build this and what I was trying to solve for. And so thinking about what I got out of this, it was I needed to tell more of a story of how we got here and why this needed to be solved for and the impact it would have on people, not just, hey, look what we did. Look at the cool product. It’s kind of Simon Sinek is famous for his book. Start With Why I Needed to do that more in my presentation. And so when I think about what I got out of this, it was get people tapped into the story of why this matters. And the moment I did that, I realized that everybody that I talk to has felt the pain of not knowing what to say when faced with an objection. And the moment you can emotionally attach somebody to that, then it becomes something that they feel powerful they feel strongly about and buy into. So that’s what I got most out of this was don’t be afraid to get people to buy into this emotionally and get the side of the story behind why I want to do what we’re doing.
Lee Kantor: [00:18:31] And that’s a great lesson for other founders that sometimes they get so enamored with the technology and they get all that. That’s all they’re thinking about, but they’re not really looking at it through the lens of the user or the buyer and that emotional frustration that they’re dealing with. And if you can get to the heart of that and make that go away, you have a really compelling sales case for them.
Greg Reffner : [00:18:52] Absolutely. Spot on.
Lee Kantor: [00:18:55] So now what’s next for abstract? Where are you on the road map and how you plan to get there?
Greg Reffner : [00:19:01] Yeah. So next steps, we have two pretty big product releases that we’re going to be pushing out in May and June of this year that we were able to accelerate as a result of our winnings from the start up showdown. And really, we’re on our path to to raising our seed round of a couple million dollars later this year. So pipeline strong, we’ve got a great marketing engine growing. We have a very predictable engineering and product release cycle. So we’ve we’ve accelerated some things with this investment. We’re looking to hire a couple more people internally from a product perspective and raise a raise two or $3 million, hopefully middle of this year.
Lee Kantor: [00:19:45] Now, have you got clarity around your ideal sales persona or the folks that should be buying the software?
Greg Reffner : [00:19:54] Yeah. So what’s what’s been interesting about that is we have had a thesis around who that should be and it was B2B software companies, mid-market, less than 1000 employees. But what’s been fascinating is that just organically other markets, other buyers have come to us and found instant value in this. So who are we targeting? We’re targeting B2B software companies. That being said, the problems that we solve are applicable across any vertical, any market that has a sales team. So we’re going to remain hyper focused on B2B software, but our product works organically across again, anybody who needs to make a phone call and handle objections.
Lee Kantor: [00:20:41] Now, has there been a mentor or somebody either that you met in person or that maybe you read about or maybe you read their books? That has kind of left a mark in terms of inspiration or philosophy and your leadership in abstract.
Greg Reffner : [00:20:58] I think there’s probably two. I like Steve Jobs. I’ve always been a fan of Steve Jobs. I know kind of ruffled a lot of people the wrong way. Was tough to work with and work for. But. We wouldn’t have the iPhone. We wouldn’t have smartphones without him in the way some of the stories of how we push people. I know probably some folks on my team. Probably. Are frustrated with me at some times, but I think Steve Jobs is somebody that changed the world. And I think you’ve got to kind of be a little crazy to do to do that. So I relate to him. And then the other person that I really like and I think I try to live by is a gentleman by the name of Jocko Willink. He was a Navy SEAL. Talks about extreme ownership and kind of owning responsibility for everything. Because when you own the responsibility, you don’t pass the buck to somebody else. It allows you to make changes. So yeah Steve Jobs Jocko willing to people that are really. Really aspire to kind of follow in their footsteps to some degree.
Lee Kantor: [00:22:13] So what do you need more of right now and how could we help? Do you need more funding, more clients, more talent?
Greg Reffner : [00:22:22] Yeah. So right now we’re hyper focused on finding our first VP of engineering. So that’s the person that I’m on the lookout for. I have three recruiting firms actively looking for that first person to come in and be kind of our, our, my, my counterpart, our technical leader. So that’s, that’s number one, two money fundraising. That’ll come. I, I wouldn’t know how to spend $2 million today if I got $2 million. So we have some things to do, some some answers to get from a marketing perspective and a pipeline generation perspective before we know what a repeatable sales and marketing motion looks like. So really right now, hyper focus on finding a VP of engineering to bring in house and to just going out and getting new customers and delighting those customers every step of the way.
Lee Kantor: [00:23:14] Well, if somebody wants to learn more about abstract, what’s the website.
Greg Reffner : [00:23:20] Abstract dot i the abstract spelled with a K mainly because abstract with the C was way too expensive.
Lee Kantor: [00:23:26] And that’s abstract I.
Greg Reffner : [00:23:31] Yes, sir.
Lee Kantor: [00:23:32] Well, Greg, thank you so much for sharing your story today. You’re doing important work and we appreciate you.
Greg Reffner : [00:23:37] Yeah, thank you for having me, Lee. I appreciate you giving us an opportunity to share our story.
Lee Kantor: [00:23:41] All right. This is Lee Kantor. What’s our next time on Startup Showdown Radio?
Intro: [00:23:52] As always, thanks for joining us. And don’t forget to follow and subscribe to the Start Up Showdown podcast so you get the latest episode as it drops. To learn more and apply to our next startup Showdown Pitch Competition Visit Showdown DC Goodbye for now.