e45 Varag Gharibjanian

45: Varag Gharibjanian works with companies like Qualcom, Lenovo, & Bose to grow their revenue

Get ready to dive straight into the world of sales with Varag, who is here to spill the secrets on snagging those crucial first customers. Whether you’re just starting out or looking to revamp your sales strategy, this episode is packed with golden nuggets on building a sales process that truly works. Don’t miss Varag’s expert tips on marrying technology with sales to drive success!


Highlights

  • Varag shares actionable strategies for startups aiming to make a mark in the industry.
  • Unpacking the role of technology in modern sales processes.
  • Varag’s take on adapting sales strategies in a constantly evolving market.
  • Tips for startups on navigating the early stages of customer acquisition.
  • The importance of understanding customer needs and preferences in building a successful sales strategy.
  • Varag discusses case studies where technology played a pivotal role in boosting sales.
  • A deep dive into the sales methodologies that have driven success for companies Varag has collaborated with.
  • Varag shares personal experiences and lessons learned from his journey in the tech-sales industry.
  • A closer look at the strategies that helped big names like Qualcomm and Lenovo amplify their sales.

Mentions

Show Transcript

Paris Vega:
Welcome to the First Customers podcast. I’m Paris Vega, your host. And this is the show all about how people across the world have got their first customers. Today we have Varag Garibjanian, a founding partner at Actuate. They work with companies like Qualcomm, Lenovo, and Bose to increase their revenue using the most cutting edge technologies in the world. He also helps emerging startups go to market and get their first customers. Varag, welcome to the show.

Varag Gharibjanian:
Thank you, Paris. Awesome to be here. Thanks for having me.

Paris Vega:
So let’s get into it. How’d you get your first customers and tell us a little about yourself?

Varag Gharibjanian:
I’ll start with the second question there. So my story starts with the fact that I grew up in an Armenian-American household, Southern California, born and raised. I was always expected to be that traditional doctor or lawyer, but I was a little bit more rebellious than that. But I was pretty good at math and physics, so I went into engineering and then a grad. And unfortunately, I had some personal tragedies that happened during those times. where I had to really ask that really difficult question of, what is it you wanna do with your life? Very early on, right? And so fast forward a year or so of soul searching and digging, and it was always technology that kept coming up. And I knew that by being part of the computing platforms that are out there, like smartphones, laptops, and what would come in the future, I’d really thought I would make a really big impact in my career in life. So. As I was still an undergrad, I had my first stint in product management in the wireless space. So I got to actually invent a technology with a team that I had hired and worked with. Really cool. Electrical engineers, software engineers, marketing, illegal. We actually saw it go from… just being an idea and then to actually come into fruition. And that was like that aha moment where I was like, wow, like I want to be in technology and business the rest of my career. And, you know, in that case, we already kind of had customers we were willing to get out to. But in future roles, I’ll describe here is where we get some into some, you know, real first customers, so to say. Graduated, thought I would formalize that tech and business passion and go to MIT for grad school. Problem was I didn’t really belong there, didn’t know anyone who went there, but I was pretty ambitious. So I packed the bag, went to the East Coast, shook a lot of hands, and eventually ended up at a boutique management consulting firm full of really talented MIT and Harvard people. And we were working a lot with device makers like Samsung, carriers like AT&T and Verizon. And there was consulting, research. Eventually, after getting promoted a couple of times, I was managing clients, managing smaller teams, so more customer success type of roles. Little bit of biz dev that I’d been introduced to there, but not too much. Graduated or got into MIT, sorry, in 2015, did that for a couple of years and got exposed into the XR space, so AR and VR technology in Silicon Valley

Paris Vega:
Yeah.

Varag Gharibjanian:
in about 2016. So that’s when I saw that was the… kind of future computing platform. I want it to be a part of it. And so, graduate from grad school, come back to SoCal, and this is where the first customer experience starts, right, it’s joining a fresh early stage startup, and we were building AI technology then, for devices, especially AR, VR devices, to be able to track users better, and for those devices to be able to perceive

Paris Vega:
Mm.

Varag Gharibjanian:
the world better. So these are technologies like

Paris Vega:
Oh wow.

Varag Gharibjanian:
hand tracking, gesture recognition. plane detection, all those kinds of cool things.

Paris Vega:
Wow.

Varag Gharibjanian:
And that’s a great example of coming into a company where it wasn’t really a product yet. Right, it was more of a pure tech. So like, PhD written code, not a product offering, not packaged into something that was easily receivable. And so it was a lot of first-hand experience we can dive into here on. How do you figure out who the first customer should be? And how do you identify that? What makes that the first in the same market segment to go after? How do you reach them? And then

Paris Vega:
Yeah.

Varag Gharibjanian:
how do you go from getting on the calendar to closing them? And in this case, we’re talking about multi-billion dollar fortune 500s, but it’s not too different from other companies. So to finish the story, we did that for about three and a half years. We more than quadrupled the… valuation, we increased the size of the team. Eventually we had an exit event to Qualcomm, which was fantastic. And now that technology is proliferating the rest of that AR VR market. And over the last couple

Paris Vega:
Wow.

Varag Gharibjanian:
of years, I’ve been running my own agency, which is Actuate. And as part of the services there, we’ve worked with some of the smaller tech startups on how to get their first customers, some of the larger companies on that, how to identify new markets and new customers. But a lot of our bread and butter has been, you know, partnerships between those kinds of companies. So helping large companies find the right technology partners to grow their businesses. And then for the deep tech startups, we help them find new markets and land those first customers who land investments, which is too different, but somewhat different. So that’s me based in Southern California. Happy to dive into

Paris Vega:
Okay.

Varag Gharibjanian:
that more. Looking forward to the session.

Paris Vega:
Cool. Yeah, let’s get into some of the things that the questions you kind of pose like how do you define your target customer and go after those target customers. But before we do,

Varag Gharibjanian:
Hehe.

Paris Vega:
I want everybody to pause and go change clothes and put on a white polo because Varag and I both just randomly decided to wear white polos today. So it’s the white polo gang day on First Customers podcast. So we’ll

Varag Gharibjanian:
It

Paris Vega:
give

Varag Gharibjanian:
is.

Paris Vega:
you a moment, sip a coffee, get your white polos. then we can get back into it.

Varag Gharibjanian:
Right.

Paris Vega:
But yeah, so how did you guys go about defining that target audience? Talk about that a little bit, since that’s one of the questions you brought up, and that’s a big part of it. Before you can get your first customers or target your first customers, you have to decide who they are.

Varag Gharibjanian:
Yeah, it’s a really important question because it will help you close that first customer, right? So picking the right market segment. It’s not something that I think you can purely do like hypothetically and just know that that’s the right one. It is a little bit of build a hypothesis and I’ll talk through the factors, but then actually go out and try to execute. And you’ll see that if you’re right, it should be a little bit easier to close that first customer than being in the wrong market. All right, so in my mind, there’s, this is not an exhaustive list, but you know, some of the things I look at is, you know, what is the size of the market? So what is your total addressable market? And who can you reach? How much can you, if you’re thinking about a certain price, when you multiply those numbers together, what’s the size? Bigger is usually better, but the second factor is growth, and growth is important too, so. People say you can not have a great offer, but if you’re in a really fast growing market, you’ll be able to have some wins. So growth is really important. I look for like 20% growth if possible. The other is…

Paris Vega:
Over what time period are you looking at when you’re analyzing a market?

Varag Gharibjanian:
Yeah, like year over year, 20% growth, right?

Paris Vega:
Okay.

Varag Gharibjanian:
If possible. I think, you know, the third most important thing is like, probably the third factor and most important is how, to what extent do they actually need what you’re creating? Right, how

Paris Vega:
Hmm.

Varag Gharibjanian:
big of a problem is it that you are solving? How urgent of a problem and how reoccurring is that problem? So if it’s something that they have, you know, once a year, that’s. That’s a certain amount of frequency. If it’s something they have once every five years, that’s a problem, right? So not enough of a problem, in my opinion. So one good example of something that is like a pretty big market, still grows, but it just isn’t that much of a challenge is automotive, right? How often do you buy a car? It’s a really frustrating process to buy a car or sell a car, really horrible, but it happens like once every three years. So that’s an example of like, it’s a problem, but it’s not really that reoccurringly urgent. to use Y Combinator language, right? So that’s really important to think about. The fourth is, you know, how quickly can you access that market? So it’s really cool if you’ve got an interesting product idea or a new piece of technology, but if you’re thinking about a market that you don’t have any contacts in or is really far away from where you might live, or that’s gonna be a challenge. So something to consider as well. And then last but not least for now, is like, what is the customer’s willingness to pay? Right? Like, do they actually have budget for something like what you might be thinking about? And if they don’t, or if they’re not a market segment that has much like discretionary income, then that’s something for you to consider as well, too. Right? So, you know, there could be others here, like how much competition and so on, so forth. But you want to list those things out. And then you want to start thinking about, okay, all these different customer segments. If we’re talking about B2B, like what location are they, what industry are they in, what role do they have, what size company is it, and start kind of filtering and ranking that across those criteria before you get into a, sales conversation so you have a good hypothesis going.

Paris Vega:
So do you use any tools or software or spreadsheet to kind of help process this information?

Varag Gharibjanian:
Yeah, for myself and sometimes with my clients, I use a spreadsheet. So I give like a value from let’s say, one to five, one to 10, and I kind of do a relative rank. It’s not perfect, but it just helps you get your thoughts out and onto a board and kind of digest it from there, right?

Paris Vega:
Okay, so just using a kind of a gut feeling is better than having zero data at all.

Varag Gharibjanian:
So definitely use data where data makes sense, like growth, market size, these are things that can use some data, right? But like some of these things come down to them being relative. So how do I measure like how much access you might have to a given market? Like it’s hard for me to put an exact number to that, but let’s say in your case, Paris, like if you’ve been in the retail space, right? And you have a lot of contacts there. or from my case, like I have a lot of contacts in the technology hardware space. That’s a pretty high level of access versus if you ask me to go into. Aerospace, I have contacts, but it’s not it’s not nearly as deep.

Paris Vega:
All right, can you go into a little bit of the details of like maybe a specific set of tactics you use to get a first customer?

Varag Gharibjanian:
Mm-hmm. So in my case, most of my stories and examples are more like B2B. So it might be a little bit different for someone who’s like building a consumer product. Uh, I think everyone should recognize it. Like the tactic you might use is a strategy or approach you might take needs to lean into where you have your strengths. In my case, like I love building relationships with people. I like being around them. So once I’ve kind of have a strong hypothesis on what customer market I want to enter, I always look to see how I’m connected. Uh, and I use like social media to do that. I think everyone at this point knows

Paris Vega:
Okay.

Varag Gharibjanian:
that, but like LinkedIn for me is like, is where I spend the most time. on social media. So I’m looking at, hmm, like where do I have, I typed that in sales navigator and I see like, who are the people that keep coming up as like a mutual contact between who I might want to target. Right. So if I’m, I’d say in the context of, of our startup back then, clay, that AI company I was speaking about, you know, we were trying to target certain device makers. And so I would, I would go in and type in like, okay, looking for, you know, companies of this size, like over 10,000 people, like huge, right. Uh, and, and in the hardware space and, um, you know, looking to see how I might be connected to like the qualcomm’s of the world, um, or other related companies. And I would see who like mutual connections were, and I’d always try to get a warm introduction through them. Right. And that always, that always helped. Cause I think people underestimate, uh, the first, the value of like the first impression and. how you get in touch with that person. Of course you can always go cold, but getting a really warm introduction from someone that person respects is, in my opinion, the best path. So you’re setting yourself up from success for like the first meeting.

Paris Vega:
Yeah, I think that’s a really interesting point. Yeah, how you go about getting that first impression instead of just looking at, I gotta do whatever it takes to just get in front of somebody. That’s really interesting considering that as part of your marketing or kind of branding or messaging strategy, like making sure that that first introduction is a really intentional introduction. So that’s kind of a slightly different angle,

Varag Gharibjanian:
Absolutely.

Paris Vega:
I think, than we’ve specifically talked about.

Varag Gharibjanian:
Yeah, no, I, um, so there’s one thing that kind of be distinct about it. I think, I think there’s a difference between, you know, you already know what market you should be in and why. And you’re at that phase of the company and now you’re, you know, you’re kind of pouring on the marketing techniques for scale, but then there’s this kind of period before that where you’re in somewhat of discovery, right? That’s what we were talking about a bit, like what’s the right market segment for you and marketing. could be interesting tests for that. You can run ads against that. You know, you can run email campaigns, see response rates. I found that to be particularly difficult because like marketing doesn’t come as easily to me as conversations do, right? But in my opinion, like when you’re trying to test a certain market, you do that hypothesis legwork we talked about, you see how you’re connected. You get on, so you control for like a really great first impression. But then you try to get in there and see like, is my hypothesis true? So it’s not like a, we can get into that, whether or not you go in there with a discovery mindset on that first session,

Paris Vega:
Bye.

Varag Gharibjanian:
or if you come in there with like a hard sale, and I have different points of view on each, but you can go into that if you want.

Paris Vega:
Okay. Yeah. Yeah. What do you usually do? Do you start in discovery?

Varag Gharibjanian:
Yeah.

Paris Vega:
And then once you’ve narrowed it down later in the process, push for a hard sell or talk about that, that kind of sales process from your perspective.

Varag Gharibjanian:
Yeah, I found that. Discovery, which to define a little bit better, customer discovery is not trying to push an offer or the product yet, but just trying to discover like, is this even, is the problem even real? Is it recurring? Is it urgent? How does that customer go about solving that problem now? And is it working for them? How much do they pay for it? Who are the players they’ve heard of? Where do they even hear about those players? These are kind of discovery questions, which is great. But what I’ve learned through some of that experience is that you could do that for a long time. But it’s not until you push for the sale to where you really… kind of get a stronger signal to like noise ratio and like whether or not this is something that is actually something that’s worthwhile for them. You know, so I can recommend like

Paris Vega:
Right.

Varag Gharibjanian:
just due to discovery, that’s fair. Don’t get stuck in it though, right? Because you really don’t know. Obviously if you’re doing discovery and like you’re realizing like, okay, it’s not that much of a reoccurring problem, it’s not that urgent. And you do 10 of them. Maybe that’s your wrong market. Right. Or, uh, and all the, some of the other ones can be better or that was the best it was going to get, you should do some of that. Don’t get me wrong. But what I don’t agree with is, Hey, I’m kind of getting mixed results. I’ve been doing this for like three months and I’m just doing discovery, discovery at some point, you got to put an offer in front of a customer and maybe you could try it out with someone new or someone you’ve been doing discovery with. But you’ve got to push for that and see what the result is. Right. Um,

Paris Vega:
Yeah.

Varag Gharibjanian:
or else you don’t really know for sure.

Paris Vega:
Okay. And do you, do you usually do that within one conversation, kind of switch from one angle to the other, or do you do it across like multiple meetings?

Varag Gharibjanian:
I think it’s important to be consistent in what you’re saying. So if the context of the introduction or the way you connected with the potential customer was I want to do discovery with you, I highly recommend keeping it as discovery. Gone are those days where you can do that and then all of a sudden come out with a… would a hard push on an offer and try to close something. Now, if, if that, if that customer you’re doing discovery with moves in that direction, you know, okay, that’s great. Like when they want, and they want to buy the, even just the idea of fantastic, like, you know, you can do that. But I find that like, if

Paris Vega:
Okay.

Varag Gharibjanian:
you want to move it in that direction and you want to turn them into an actual customer sort of asked for permission, right? So at the end of the call, it might be like, look, it sounds like this is something that would be really helpful for you and the org. Does it make sense to set up another call when we have something a little more developed and like see if there’s a project we can do together?

Paris Vega:
Okay.

Varag Gharibjanian:
You know, you ask for that permission, if you get it, then move.

Paris Vega:
Yeah.

Varag Gharibjanian:
But trying to push it there without really clear, you know, sort of interests and intent from their side, I think is disingenuous at this point, personally.

Paris Vega:
Okay, so be very transparent with the process so they feel like they’re right there with you and they’re not trying to use any weird pressure tactics or surprise or anything like that.

Varag Gharibjanian:
Right. That goes a long way.

Paris Vega:
Okay. Tell us about your very first sale. Um, it doesn’t have to be with the current company, but since you, it seems like you, like you said, you’ve got a lot of sales experience. That’s where you’ve spent a lot of time in the biz dev side. How did you get into that role?

Varag Gharibjanian:
So. First time I got into a more… Kind of more sales driven role was really early actually in my career. I had a stint as a stockbroker, right? But that’s so long ago

Paris Vega:
Nice, OK.

Varag Gharibjanian:
now that I can barely recall. Yeah. What that was like, but I did, you know, I did learn some things more, more recently, I would say was that. Was that clay that startup I was speaking to earlier and, uh, at clay, um, it was doing things, many things in parallel early on, but It was doing some of that customer discovery or trying to even, it was very little time for customer discovery. Honestly, it was just trying to go straight to like trying to get projects, right? Because startup, sometimes it’s just, you know, you’ve already done some of that discovery and you’re just going for it. So at the same time, product wasn’t fully ready yet. So it was about trying to win, see where the demand is, trying to win deals and then bring some of those insights back to product. on any gaps that we may have had. I remember early on, it was kind of uncomfortable because it had been a while since I had done anything like that, representing a company, representing a product. One of our first deals that we had closed was with Qualcomm, so doing some POC kind of work. It was difficult because there’s like multiple, multiple meetings. So this is like more enterprise, you know, long cycle projects where it’s like 12 months, right back and forth before you can commit to anything. And, you know, it’s one thing I realized to sort of open a project, like open an opportunity, go through the evaluation, go through, um, you know, high level terms, but it is sometimes another skill to try to close it. And that’s the end. I felt like I had to learn. It was how to close and do that in a meaningful way and without applying like, you know, pressure tactics that aren’t sincere, right? So

Paris Vega:
Yeah.

Varag Gharibjanian:
it’s something that you have to have a lot of patience for. You have to be willing to be empathetic, I think, to the customer and understand what they’re going through, what their constraints are. what other topics they’re focused on. So you understand how you might fit in. You know, so many different steps we can go into here in more detail, but like it is a lot of

Paris Vega:
Mm-hmm.

Varag Gharibjanian:
patience, right? And empathy to close those

Paris Vega:
Yeah.

Varag Gharibjanian:
kinds of products, yeah.

Paris Vega:
What would you say is your typical perspective on the time it takes to close a sale going from initially contacting someone or I guess you’re prospecting or qualifying, you know, you’re doing that before you actually reach out.

Varag Gharibjanian:
Mm-hmm.

Paris Vega:
But once you reach out and make whatever that first warm introduction is that you’ve planned and position yourself perfectly for that referral, whatever it is, how long does a sale cycle usually take?

Varag Gharibjanian:
Great question, Paris. So yeah, it definitely depends on what you’re selling into who. And the longest I’ve ever seen has been like 18 months, maybe 20 months. And this is for really high ticket technology deals where you are fitting into the roadmap of a much bigger project at a large company that has a lot of different stakeholders and people involved. very long-term plans that you’re plugging into, where there’s like gaps in timetables, where you just have to be patient for the next other contingency as part of this deal to go through for it to move forward. So that could take a really, really long time. And then there’s changes in management, people come and they go, and it sometimes restarts things. But I’ve always told people that if you’re going to do those kinds of deals, make sure they’re big. because you could also do a six figure deal or $50,000 deal, let’s say, and have it be 20 months. And the same deal could have been like millions of dollars. So I’ve always told people, like if you’re gonna do enterprise deals, make sure that they’re really big. On the other end of the spectrum, still staying with B2B, right? But I’ve been involved in projects where it’s a SaaS B2B play. And there’s no reason to have more than four calls. And you do that in three weeks and it’s, and it’s, you know, it’s a much lower ticket value, but you know, the, uh, the demand is clear. There’s a clear differentiation from the product. It solves a real reoccurring urgent problem. All those things. And it’s in the right market. All those things tend to kind of quicken or shorten, sorry, the deal time timeline, right? And so, you know, three, four weeks, it can be done.

Paris Vega:
So would you say that that might be a principle or something people should consider? Like if you’re going to dedicate to a long sales process, make sure it is worth what you’re going to need worth that time investment. Make sure it’s a big enough project versus just leaving every single potential prospect in the pipeline for a really long time.

Varag Gharibjanian:
I’m a big believer in that. Uh, it has to have either dollar value or some of their value. Right. So sometimes, you know, it may not end up being a massive dollar amount with one of these larger companies. But if it means that after you’ve done this project, you know, with them, all the subsequent deals would be a lot better because you might find better product market fit, or you strike a partnership that just makes it so much easier. Then it has non-immediate monetary value and it’s strategic. You spend the time, right? But

Paris Vega:
Yeah.

Varag Gharibjanian:
controlling for that, and we say if you’re gonna do an 18 month deal, whether it’s 50,000 or almost 50 million, it’s not that different. It’s just zeros and the processes are the same. All right, so

Paris Vega:
Yeah. Right. It’s all dealing with people.

Varag Gharibjanian:
that’s something to definitely consider. Right. The same amount of complexity. Usually.

Paris Vega:
Right. All right. So you’ve got your spreadsheet mapped out that you go through with either yourself when you’re mapping out your own target customers or with your clients, when you’re helping them do this. Um, and then you said you prefer working in LinkedIn. Um, are there any other kind of go-to tactics or platforms that you use to,

Varag Gharibjanian:
Mm-hmm.

Paris Vega:
uh, do that initial targeting?

Varag Gharibjanian:
Yeah, on the B2B side, there are more… tools that are emerging, some of them which are already pretty well established, like Apollo is one of them,

Paris Vega:
Yeah.

Varag Gharibjanian:
just kind of databases that have, excuse me, contact databases where you could segment by those markets you might have been considering. So now you can really drill down and say, hey, I want to hit everybody who’s in the aerospace industry. company size from like 200 to a thousand and they’re in the East coast. So you can, you can do that. Now to see how you might be connected, might be a little bit more difficult in those tools, uh, because that data may not exist and might be more on LinkedIn or other platforms. So something to consider, but you know, the other approach that I like is, uh, I call it kind of like inside out outreach. Uh, it’s not the best

Paris Vega:
Okay.

Varag Gharibjanian:
term for it, but inside out, meaning think about your network and who’s inside of it and who’s really close, who really like really likes you, um, who knows you well enough where if you ask them to introduce you to someone, they would love to, or they would say some really nice things and reach out

Paris Vega:
Gotcha.

Varag Gharibjanian:
to that, let’s say that’s 20 people and reach out to them and say, Hey, you know, I’ve got this hypothesis. on a new product idea, already have the product, whatever stage you’re at, you’re trying to hit this new mark and say, I’m looking for people who kind of meet this persona or customer profile. Do you know anybody that comes to mind? And now you got to be pretty, I recommend being pretty specific about who that person is or else you just leave people confused. Like if you just say, Hey, do you know anyone like in healthcare? It’s like, that’s not specific enough. They could think of a doctor. and a nurse and those are, you know, or someone who’s on the business side, not specific enough, but if you give them enough, just enough detail, uh, and they will think of someone for you and if they feel comfortable introducing you, they will, and it’ll be a great first intro. Right. So this is kind of the insight. It’s I call it like

Paris Vega:
Okay.

Varag Gharibjanian:
inside out, right. But, uh,

Paris Vega:
Mm-hmm.

Varag Gharibjanian:
there’s also the outside in, which is like, you just go on one of these databases. or on LinkedIn and you find who that target is, you get their contact information. With LinkedIn, it’s better because you could see how you’re connected without

Paris Vega:
Yeah.

Varag Gharibjanian:
that, then you’re kind of going out cold.

Paris Vega:
Yeah. And having to kind of trace your steps backwards to your network versus

Varag Gharibjanian:
Right.

Paris Vega:
starting with your network and branching out from their connections.

Varag Gharibjanian:
Yeah. Inside out, we’re S outside in. I don’t know if someone else has called it that,

Paris Vega:
Gotcha. Okay.

Varag Gharibjanian:
but that’s what I call.

Paris Vega:
There was one other sales focus guy on the podcast many episodes ago who talked about, uh, he didn’t call it that. But it was kind of that same tactic of really focusing on who you’re connected to already and then dig it into their connections and trying to find opportunities that line up with, you know, whatever it is you’re selling. Um, that makes a lot of sense, but yeah, like your twist on it saying, like, make sure like, focus on someone who, you know, you have a really good rapport with really good reputation who will speak highly of you because. Yeah. It makes sense that whoever they refer to you. it’s going to have that built in extra value to it because of how they speak about you because of the value of your relationship with them or the strength of your relationship with them.

Varag Gharibjanian:
agreed and the other, you know, this little social dynamics that are happening here in these examples, but even if you were to go quote unquote outside in and you find someone, let’s say on LinkedIn that meets your target potential customer, your hypothesis, and you see that you have a close connection in between. You don’t actually know. Although they were in mutual connection on LinkedIn, you don’t know how strong that relationship is with that target, right? And so now there is like this spinning of the wheels that I notice is happening more and more often because LinkedIn data, I think is just kind of, everyone’s adding everybody. So there’s a lot of loose connections, let’s say. But when

Paris Vega:
Right.

Varag Gharibjanian:
you go inside out, you’re also inherently asking in that question. Who do you know that you would feel comfortable enough making a warm introduction to?

Paris Vega:
Okay. So you’re saying starting with more of a conversation with that person

Varag Gharibjanian:
Right? Right.

Paris Vega:
in the network, instead of just going and searching through their connections.

Varag Gharibjanian:
Right. Like who already

Paris Vega:
Got you.

Varag Gharibjanian:
comes to mind, right? Like if you

Paris Vega:
Yeah.

Varag Gharibjanian:
asked me, yeah, for a particular type of person, I’m like, okay, what I feel, you know, comfortable

Paris Vega:
Okay.

Varag Gharibjanian:
introducing to. So that kind of inherently asks, introduce me to someone that you think, you know, we’d get along with, could be a fit for this, for this message I’m sending you right now. You are kind

Paris Vega:
Yeah.

Varag Gharibjanian:
of passing the, the task onto someone else, but, you know, it makes them look good too, if they make a good connection. So.

Paris Vega:
Right. Yeah, the human element of it. And that’s it’s funny because I went straight to, yeah, you can pilfer around in their connections, just staying online. But but yeah, what you’re saying makes sense. Just talk to the person and ask them, hey, who comes to mind? Like you’re not, you know, asking them to spend a whole lot of time thinking about it, but just that automatic kind of what’s their gut answer. Is it probably going to be a better? person for you to reach out to since they’re more top of mind anyway, meaning they would probably have a better connection with that person. That’s good.

Varag Gharibjanian:
Yep, I agree. I agree.

Paris Vega:
All right, so now you’ve got Actuate, the agency that you’re founding partner in, and you’re working with these big brands, and tell us a little bit more about what Actuate actually does for your customers.

Varag Gharibjanian:
For sure. So we serve two different kinds of companies. One is larger, typically enterprise, although we’re targeting more mid cap lately, tech or healthcare type companies that are looking for new ways for them to grow their businesses. And we do that, we help them in that with strategy work. identifying some of these new markets that we’re just talking about using those frameworks. But we try to see what, which of those gaps we can fill through new technologies. So for example, that could be a… big tech company that’s going to launch a new product, but they’re missing a core piece of technology that might make the product better and therefore a better end product for their customers. And we can support them on scouting and evaluating new technologies there. So in that case, it’s less strategies, a little bit more tactical technology partnerships as a service, right? But in some cases it could be. Hey, we’re looking to penetrate like thinking about new markets to penetrate. And we don’t know which ones with this new product we have. Can you help us think through which ones and then who we can partner with? And it’s maybe get a fast track or grow the revenue. So that’s what we generally tend to do with larger companies. We also work. with startups that are going from, you know, C to A or B stage generally. Uh, and they are generally B to B deep tech. So they might be working on AR, VR, AI technologies, hardware. These are companies where generally they’re differentiated through the novelty of the technology they have. That’s how I kind of differentiate them as, as being deep tech. Uh, and we help them. with some of the same things, scope of services, go to market. It could be business development, helping them think through a customer deal that they’re working on. And then last but not least, has been some fundraising help as well too, although we don’t do that as often. But sometimes it’s helping them with their pitch, their narrative, and some intros to investors where appropriate. So that’s what actually… That’s who actually it helps and how it helps them.

Paris Vega:
Hmm. Okay. So when you’re like pitching a target customer, um, and on your website, it said that you describe it as kind of business consulting. Um, are there other like kind of industry standard buzzwords that you might describe your services as?

Varag Gharibjanian:
I mean, you could think of it as kind of like management consulting, right?

Paris Vega:
Okay.

Varag Gharibjanian:
Or sometimes people call it like innovation consulting, but I think it’s too many times innovation is, it’s just been a word that’s been overused and suggests that it’s going to be a project we do on the side and we learn a couple things from and then walk away from. And that’s not what we’re trying to do. We were trying to. If you think of the biggest consulting firms in the world, the McKinsey’s, the Bains, and the Deloitte’s, these are amazing companies that are doing huge, huge projects. But oftentimes, the complaint is it’s a lot of quote unquote insights and some regurgitation of what the client’s problems and goals. But the insights and recommendations kind of stay as… insights or recommendations, they don’t make it to something that’s more actionable or bankable. And I think part of the reason why is because most consultants don’t have that operational expertise and sometimes it’s in the execution or the operation of a vision where you understand whether or not it’s real or. Right. And now as someone who’s like sat on both sides of that, I understand that very well. I’ve been a consultant who didn’t have much execution expertise. And I went and got it. And now I’ve kind of come back to it and I realized like, okay, what you recommend has to actually make sense in the real world. So for example, a consultant might say like, oh, the best thing for you to do is to go partner with that company. Right. We’ve done the analysis on them, which market they sit in, which customers they have. Okay. But that. same person making that recommendation has never actually struck a partnership themselves ever in their career. So they may not know what it takes to kind of go and do that and where the potential hiccups are along the way.

Paris Vega:
Yeah. Okay. So your wealth of experience on all aspects of the things that your clients do helps you guys give better advice and actually give them actionable advice. And it sounds like help them execute the things that you recommend.

Varag Gharibjanian:
Absolutely. And I don’t think you need too much of a wealth of, of experience to start to differentiate in that regard. Right. But just enough, just enough, because things are changing all the time. So just enough, you know, to have enough experience to say like, Hey, like, you know, this makes sense. This doesn’t, especially from a business development or deal perspective, right? Because at the end of the day, deals are where a lot of value is exchanged. And so having that deal experience as part of the consulting recommendations, I think is really helpful.

Paris Vega:
So we’ve talked about kind of outbound sales aspect of getting your first customers for part of this, but what is the current state of things for you? Where do, if you get kind of inbound leads, where do you see leads coming from? You mentioned that you’ve started to learn more about kind of the marketing side of things.

Varag Gharibjanian:
Mm-hmm.

Paris Vega:
So what are you seeing as far as platforms or different, whether- You see anything coming from events or just your website?

Varag Gharibjanian:
Mmm.

Paris Vega:
Can you speak a little bit about where you see leads coming from these days?

Varag Gharibjanian:
That’s a really good question. I think it might sound a little bit different for everybody. For me, what I’m seeing is that relationships are still kind of the best actually growing in that way, meaning I think it’s become. so noisy out there over like the last five years with so many different like marketing automation tools that people have been using to either like run ads,

Paris Vega:
Right.

Varag Gharibjanian:
run campaigns. It’s weird, but I feel like there’s kind of a reversion to the, I don’t want to call them tactics, but approaches of marketing inbound or outbound, honestly, that are like less scalable in a way. Right. And so a little bit back to like a word of mouth

Paris Vega:
Yeah.

Varag Gharibjanian:
in some sense, I think, I don’t know if everyone else has experienced that kind of flip that question back to you. You’ve done more of these interviews, but

Paris Vega:
Okay.

Varag Gharibjanian:
that’s what I’m saying.

Paris Vega:
Okay. And do you, um, like intentionally go to different events and try to do things that are like that non-scalable things? Um, can you mint, like maybe discuss a few of those types of approaches that are non-scalable?

Varag Gharibjanian:
Yeah, okay. So events for me have been difficult lately. I think ever since COVID, for me, there’s been like a different

Paris Vega:
Yeah.

Varag Gharibjanian:
like, it just hasn’t fully come back for me. I think that’s my piece a little bit specific for me. For many it has, right? But I’m also looking to go to fewer of the events that I used to go to because I’m looking for not to commingle as much with fellow technologists as much as others who need those technologies. So that’s a little bit of a shift for me that I’m in the process of. I definitely enjoy going to events, so I’m looking forward to stepping that back up. But to your later question there, for me it’s keeping in touch with people. So I have like a lot of people that I call, like professional network, which I’m, they’re not even customers, but I have them like in a CRM, call it like a personal relationship manager. Like I keep track of what’s going on in people’s lives. I regularly keep in touch with them. I set up like monthlies with them, or

Paris Vega:
Okay.

Varag Gharibjanian:
whenever a couple months. And I have that kind of always rescheduled and say, hey, let’s catch up then see what’s going on, how we can help each other. So I almost think of it as like a, creating like a bench of, bench is the wrong word, creating a group of partners that you work with, you know, on a regular basis.

Paris Vega:
Hmm.

Varag Gharibjanian:
And I would love to one day bring them all together. That’s like kind of a next thing

Paris Vega:
Yeah.

Varag Gharibjanian:
I’d like to do, but so far it’s individually creating relationships with each one of them and being consistent, right? And finding ways to help them and vice versa. So that pays dividends.

Paris Vega:
curious what size that group is that you’re able to manage in that personal network. Just roughly, you know.

Varag Gharibjanian:
Um… uh maybe like, you know, 30 people that are quite regular,

Paris Vega:
Okay.

Varag Gharibjanian:
right? But there is like, honestly, probably couple hundred to 300 where it’s less, it’s not monthly, right? But it’s people that I’m always, you know, kind of standing in touch with somehow right here and there. So, it is difficult.

Paris Vega:
Okay.

Varag Gharibjanian:
And again, I don’t recommend this for people who aren’t people focused, right? For me, It’s much easier to do that. It comes more naturally to me. It’s what I would prefer to do versus, let’s say, write content all day long. So people have, or run ads, people have different approaches and. core strengths. That said, the podcast about like finding your first customer. I think this like, you know, marketing is best used for scale and your first customer should really be like, you know, especially if it’s B2B relationship driven. I would say that it’s better to be.

Paris Vega:
That’s good. Yeah. And I think that that lines up with what we’ve heard a lot on this show is seems like the people who maybe build the best businesses or it’s just a common pattern we see across all the different people who’ve gotten customers is they figured out a way

Varag Gharibjanian:
Mm.

Paris Vega:
to of course define a target audience, but then speak to that target audience and get involved with that community and build relationships within that community. build some kind of connection to that community. Um, and that seems like a much more stable place to start from versus, you know, just blasting ads out there and wasting your whole budget, hoping that something catches somebody’s attention, you know, uh, and someone who did, uh, an event with their customer, something that you mentioned wanting to do, like bring your kind of network together. I’ve mentioned this a couple of times now since he’s been on the show, but a guy named John Darbyshire, he runs Smart Suite now, but his first company that he sold for like $200 million, he built it very much like relationship based and then he started an event that was only for his customers and they would end up upselling each other because they were talking about the different ways they were using the services of this business that he had started.

Varag Gharibjanian:
Oh, that’s

Paris Vega:
And.

Varag Gharibjanian:
brilliant. I love

Paris Vega:
that and that became the only marketing that he did.

Varag Gharibjanian:
that. Yeah.

Paris Vega:
That is all that they did was just this event that they would just build up

Varag Gharibjanian:
Wow.

Paris Vega:
every year or whatever. And, uh, they would, you know, obviously they’d meet the customers and talk to them and stuff, but it was just the only thing that they did and ended up, you know, turning into a company sold for 200 million. So it was an incredible story.

Varag Gharibjanian:
That’s amazing.

Paris Vega:
Yeah.

Varag Gharibjanian:
That is amazing, yeah.

Paris Vega:
So get that network together.

Varag Gharibjanian:
Get that network together. I think it,

Paris Vega:
Yeah.

Varag Gharibjanian:
again, it always goes back to what you are trying to sell into whom. At the end of the day, if you are trying to sell a really small software widget, like something that’s, let’s say it’s supposed to be 15 bucks a month, and it’s really, really helpful to… It’s software, let’s say, for digital marketers. Well, you know. You may want, it’s not a bad idea to like run an ad against that and try to get, cause at the end of the day, which you’re also

Paris Vega:
Right.

Varag Gharibjanian:
trying to test is like, is this, is this the net someone would fall through on through an ad to purchase the usage? Right. And it’s kind of product led growth approach. Um,

Paris Vega:
Right.

Varag Gharibjanian:
but if you’re, if you’re, if you’re doing something that’s more B2B, business to business sale, higher ticket, and you’re moving over from I’ve selected a market and I’m want to test that hypothesis now. Like there isn’t really something better than like getting on the call or in person with 10 people and starting there. Right. Um,

Paris Vega:
Yeah.

Varag Gharibjanian:
it’s very, it’s very, very hard to do that with it, with an ad to start. I found at least.

Paris Vega:
Right. Yeah. I think that’s one of the biggest things that I’ve learned from doing the show is it’s all about building relationships with your target audience. And that could be a full stop and that could kind of solve all people’s first customers problems just about is find out how to connect to that target audience and build relationships. And you’ll just learn so much in the process if you’re really early in your business creation. There’s just so much you’re going to learn from actually talking to real humans. Um, that it solves a lot of other problems where some people might try to build in stealth and then surprise the market with something that they don’t even want, you know, and that, that helps prevent that when you, when you build

Varag Gharibjanian:
Mm-hmm.

Paris Vega:
that relationship and get actual human feedback on your idea, instead of just waiting until you’ve already invested a ton and launch something on the market. Um, but Hey, we’re coming up to the.

Varag Gharibjanian:
Well said.

Paris Vega:
the end of our time here. So let’s close out with you letting us know, I mean, you already talked about how you guys help your customers. Maybe what’s that thing that differentiates you guys from your competition, that kind of reason why businesses should reach out to you.

Varag Gharibjanian:
Sure, I mentioned some of that earlier on in terms of being a little bit more. operator background with these recommendations.

Paris Vega:
Right.

Varag Gharibjanian:
But when it comes to, it’s not just that, right? When it comes to finding a technology partner for some of your larger, or your audience with larger businesses, we have really unique frameworks that we use to capture technology partner criteria that are comprehensive so that you don’t waste a lot of time with the wrong partners that can lead to a lot of downstream problems and costs. So we’re quite comprehensive with that. And then actually going out there and finding the right technology partner and evaluating them more at scale and quickly relative to how it’s done today, which is typically like, you know, two people in Silicon Valley that costs a lot of money over several months. Right. So, and we ultimately point is that we bring, you know, a strategy and technology to the table. that will help grow the business and create better synergies than otherwise. For the smaller businesses that are out there, if they’re looking for help on identifying that first customer, target market to go after, and like I said, I have some frameworks to be used there and we work with you to help figure that out. And then we put like kind of success criteria together. Like what does it look like once you identified that? Like, how do you know what success is? And what is the first, you know, steps you take? And to check whether that was the right place to go or not, right? And so point there being like, you know, you get to market and product market fit, hopefully much more quickly and working with us and also kind of distilling the noise between you and a deal and just we can kind of be a sounding board and say, That’s just the noise in the deal and not the noise in the product or like to what extent they actually want or need this, which are two different things. So that’s something to also look out for and be able to, to identify, right. As you’re trying to get to like product market fit. So, um, but Paris is a great conversation. Thank you for bringing me on. Um, the,

Paris Vega:
Yeah.

Varag Gharibjanian:
you know, the two guys

Paris Vega:
Hey, that’s right.

Varag Gharibjanian:
in the white shirts today, I think in the polos did a good job. So

Paris Vega:
White polo club. Um, thanks everybody for listening.

Varag Gharibjanian:
My polo club.

Paris Vega:
Thank you. Thank you for Verog for being here. Uh, really dropped some, some good advice here, some good insights. I think that can really help people. Um, and, uh, we’ll see everybody on the next episode of the first customers podcast, reach out with any questions you have on social media, uh, reach out to actuate, I guess they can hit you up on LinkedIn, Verog.

Varag Gharibjanian:
Yeah, that’s the best place.

Paris Vega:
Okay, we’ll put that in the show notes and thanks everybody for listening.

Varag Gharibjanian:
Absolutely, yeah.

Paris Vega:
Later.

Varag Gharibjanian:
Thank you.


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