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PatSnap: Surviving Tough Times as a First Time SaaS Founder – with Jeffrey Tiong [266]

Jeffrey Tiong

PatSnap: Surviving Tough Times as a First Time SaaS Founder

Jeffrey Tiong is the founder, and CEO of PatSnap, a connected innovation intelligence platform used by R&D teams and Intellectual Property (IP) professionals.

Jeffrey was fresh out of college in Singapore and trying to figure out what he was going to do with his life. A few years earlier, he had interned for a startup in the US where he'd spent a lot of time researching patents and intellectual property.

He recalled how hard it was to do that research. And he started thinking about a software product that could help to make that work much easier.

He managed to raise around $40,000 from a startup grant through his university. He spent a third of that money on buying servers and the rest of it on hiring developers.

But that wasn't enough money to get the product built. In fact, it took two years to ship the product. And during that time, his team had to take on all kinds of projects to help pay the bills.

He finally managed to sign his first customer – which happened to be his university library. And he closed that sale by pleading with the librarian to give his product a shot.

But even after two years, the product was unstable and full of bugs. And while they found more customers, the team had to deal with complaints and unhappy customers.

It was a stressful time for Jeffrey. He was finding customers and closing sales, but at the same time, he and his team were desperately trying to make the product better and more stable.

Today, Jeffrey's company employs 800 people and has around 8,000 customers. They've also raised over $51 million in funding, and their customers include organizations like Walt Disney, Tesla, and NASA.

I hope you enjoy the interview.

Transcript

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Final Interview

Omer Khan: [00:00:00] Welcome to another episode of The SaaS Podcast, I'm your host, Omer Khan. And this is the show where I interview proven founders and industry experts who share their stories, strategies, and insights to help you build, launch, and grow your SaaS business. In this episode, I talk to Jeffrey Tiong, the Founder, and CEO of PatSnap, a connected innovation intelligence platform used by R&D teams and IP professionals.

[00:00:38] Jeffrey was fresh out of college in Singapore and trying to figure out what he was going to do with his life. A few years earlier, he had interned for a startup in the US where he'd spent a lot of time researching patents and intellectual property. He recalled how hard it was to do that research and he started thinking about a software product that can help to make that work much easier.

[00:01:01] He managed to raise around $40,000 from a startup grant through his university. He spent a third of that money on buying servers and the rest of it on hiring developers. But that money wasn't enough to get the product built. In fact, it took two years to ship the product. And during that time, his team had to take on all kinds of projects to help pay the bills.

[00:01:25] He finally managed to sign his first customer, which happened to be his university library, and he closed that sale by pleading with the librarian to give his product a shot. But even after two years, the product was unstable and full of bugs. And while they found more customers, the team had to deal with complaints and unhappy customers.

[00:01:48] It was a stressful time, for Jeffrey. He was finding customers and closing sales, but at the same time, he and his team were desperately trying to make the product better and more stable. Today Jeffrey's company employs around 800 people and has about 8,000 customers. They've also raised over $51 million in funding and their customers include companies and organizations like Walt Disney, Tesla, and NASA. It's an interesting interview and I hope you enjoy it. Jeffrey, welcome to the show.

Jeffrey Tiong: [00:02:22] Thank you. Thanks, Omer for the invitation.

Omer Khan: [00:02:25] So, do you have a favorite quote, something that inspires or motivates you or just gets you out of bed to work on your business?

Jeffrey Tiong: [00:02:33] Yes. If I will say there is one, it will be one by Henry Ford, which I read many years ago.

[00:02:41] It goes by, “Whether you think, you can, or you can't, you are right.”

[00:02:46] Omer Khan: [00:02:46] I love that. And I was actually watching a documentary of Henry Ford last night on PBS. And, I think it's something that it's not software related, it's not tech-related in many ways, but I think there's a lot of lessons for a lot of entrepreneurs from people like in history. So for people who aren't familiar with PatSnap, Can you give us an overview what does the product do? Who is it for? And what's the main problem that you're helping to solve?

Jeffrey Tiong: [00:03:17] Yes. PatSnap is a connected innovation intelligence platform designed to help our users to identify technological opportunities that could affect the future growth and saliva of the business.

[00:03:34] So nowadays it's a hyper, hyper-competitive world. Everyone is working on all sorts of ideas and every new idea, new product or invention that is intended for commercialization is, we should actually work that against existing technology and innovation area and our platform helps our user, especially from the R&D department and the IP department, Intellectual Property department of an organization to do that on top of that, we also help them to understand the competitive landscape better from a technological standpoint, for example, what their company does or scanning to launch in terms of new products, how their technology works, what kind of patents they have in order to help our users to better position their product and also for risk mitigation. So there's is kind of what we do.

Omer Khan: [00:04:39] Can you tell us about the types of customers that you have? Like what type of companies, industries.

Jeffrey Tiong: [00:04:45] Yes. Usually, where there are a lot of R&D investments those are, where our potential customers are. In terms of geography, it will be US, Europe and China. China has been investing a lot in R&D recently, especially in the last 10 to 15 years in terms of industry, the film industry that invests a lot in R&D the life science healthcare, the automotive industry, manufacturing electronics will decide a food industry that heavily invested in R&D and they will have a need for our type of tools. In terms of companies type, it ranges from very small. I thought up a tech startup to a big conglomerate. So as long as they have a need to invest in R&D, our tools will be of use to them.

Omer Khan: [00:05:42] And typically what type of problems with these companies have? So obviously R&D if you're investing heavily in that there's a big investment. You want to make sure that your money is going in the right places, but what exactly is the problem that they struggle with around? Is it, is it primarily around like patents and sort of IP type issues?

Jeffrey Tiong: [00:06:07] Not necessarily I around it will be one, how to better product your ideas through patents or better IP protection, but there are a lot of our customers also use our platform to identify technological change or opportunities.

[00:06:26] For example, let's say we have a customer, it's a smart car battery-powered car in China. They are building a new car, essentially. They want to know what type of battery that can last longer than any existing car battery on the market. And they want to know how far, for example, how Tesla car batteries technology work, how they make it. So through our platform, they can identify what are out there, what we call the existing prior art, and it gives them inspiration or new ideas on how to do it better. So that is one way of how our platform is being used as well, to identify what is the latest technology being deployed on the market and give them inspiration on new ideas, on how to even do it better.

Omer Khan: [00:07:21] Now, I want to get people sort of a sense of the size of the business and where PatSnap is today. You founded the company in 2007 and. As of today 2020 you have around 8,000 customers, but 800 employees and you've raised, I think it's just over $51 million to date. That's pretty good going for, I mean, I didn't even know that there was a product solving this type of problem. It's, it's such a, seems like such a unique area.

[00:08:01] Where at the same time, it seems a massive opportunity. When you start thinking about how much money is going into R&D around the world, how did you come up with the idea for this business?

Jeffrey Tiong: [00:08:12] Yes. When I was studying in Singapore, in the National University of Singapore, there was a program quite, I would say, forward-thinking program where they sent entrepreneurial-minded students to go overseas to what, in a.

[00:08:31] A local stop and study part-time in a local business school. So I was actually sent to Philadelphia because of my biomedical engineering background. I was working in a, in a local medical device, startup in Philly while at the same time studying in Wharton business school in UK. And there's kind of how I first got the idea of PatSnap and when I was there, When I joined the startup, I was the first employee and fussy intern because I read there were just two bosses and myself. And because it is a medical device, startup patterns and intellectual property was very key. So during my years there, I helped them to do a lot of patterns, due diligence, to understand how the pattern works.

[00:09:21] And in fact, they also have put chase some of the patterns portfolio from another. Company in California. So there was really how I got my first exposure to patents and intellectual property. And after that stay in US about one and a half year, I went back yeah to Singapore finish my candidature. And, and I was thinking what to do after graduation.

[00:09:48] I say, why not give it a try cause I believe that there should be a better tool to do this type of work. And I believe patterns information are very, very useful too. Just to give some context about the whole pattern system, the essence of why there is a patent system is a government gift that inventor, but 20 years of monopoly, right?

[00:10:13] For your invention in return that you mentored me to disclose everything. About how the invention works so that everyone else can learn from that. That is a deal. The essentially is a, is a common points of view between the government and the inventor. So literally the patent database you have contained more than 300 years were for, or invention, under the sun that all the inventors, at least for those who filed with the patent system.

[00:10:42] So this is a very valuable data sought. But unfortunately, because it was written and drafted by the lawyer, the patent attorney. So it wasn't so easy to understand. So my idea and vision back then is if we can decode this, they pass off this patent database and make this as easy as possible even, a university student can understand how a technology that will be really great. So that was how I started PatSnap.

Omer Khan: [00:11:15] Did you kind of imagine at the time when you sort of envisioned this business, how, how big it potentially could be?

Jeffrey Tiong: [00:11:23] Yes. To be Frank? I didn't think at least it will be as big as what we see now or even down the road. So naturally, when I developed this product, my first customer in mind will be the lawyers, the IP attorneys and so on, but because our product back then, wasn't so robust, wasn't so much in the very early days of PatSnap. So we couldn't sell into this customer segment because from this audience, they really have very high requirements on our product, the data coverage, the data accuracy, the data completeness.

[00:12:05] And somehow we, we try, the market segment and we managed to sell to the R&D department of an organization and fortunately R&D department in the organization, they actually also have even better purchasing power, have better decision making, and they don't have as high requirement as the lawyers counterpart.

[00:12:30] And they also love the ease of use of our software, even though back then Our data coverage wasn't as good as now. It's good enough for them at that point of time. So we managed to start selling into the R&D segment of an organization and R&D is a huge market globally every year $2 trillion of R&D spending.

[00:12:53] And US is number one, about $500 billion. And China comes at second and about $400 billion. So this is a huge market. And as of now, R&D spending is still not so efficient. There was a study in HBR a couple of years back that says that all the last 40 years, R&D productivity has dropped by 65%. So you can imagine how much money is wasted in R&D in the $2 trillion. So if you can help them to even move the needle a little bit, I think that will be that the market will be huge.

Omer Khan: [00:13:29] So if I understood this correctly, you started out trying to sell to IP attorneys and then actually ended up with R&D customers because it was easier to sell to them, but that wasn't your initial target customer. It just happened to be an easier path to sell. Is that right?

Jeffrey Tiong: [00:13:49] Yes. Yes. Not necessarily easier, but it's still costly. We are still trying our go to market, but looking back, yes, the R&D segment, we chanced upon it accidentally.

Omer Khan: [00:14:01] So you started this business with $55,000. Where did that money come from?

Jeffrey Tiong: [00:14:10] Yeah. So, very fortunately as well, back then in my alma mater National University Singapore, there was a program that encourages and helps students who want to be entrepreneurs and give them a startup student grant. And there was a program I participated, they gave me S$55,000, which is about 40,000 USD and also gave me an incubator space for me to start my business back then.

Omer Khan: [00:14:44] And how did you spend the money? What did you do with it?

Jeffrey Tiong: [00:14:46] I mean, back then, we. We didn't have a AWS cloud yet. So I spent, I think maybe close to one-third of it on servers. So we actually have to buy our own servers on that. And the rest is just spent on, hiring cost to hire even one, one programmer. it already costs more than half of it.

Omer Khan: [00:15:09] And how long did it take you to build the first version of that product?

Jeffrey Tiong: [00:15:16] Yes. It took us about two years, two to three years, because obviously we, 55,000 is, is not enough. So we actually have to dip some projects, outsource projects to keep the lights on. So we did some projects and other ways, get some other grant.

[00:15:36] As well too, to fund the product development because for our product on top of the servers, the development costs, we also need to purchase a lot of data source from around the world from different governments as well. Because all these patents data, every country has their own patent data. So you need to spend a lot of money to acquire these data sets as well, and to clean them up and to make them available on our product. So actually it took us about two to three years before we launched our very first version of the product.

Omer Khan: [00:16:13] And, and in that time, in those first two to three years, how much were you talking to potential customers or trying to validate that this was actually something that once it shipped, people were going to give you money for.

Jeffrey Tiong: [00:16:28] Yes, looking back. I did some research. But I, I will say I didn't do enough. I think that that space, because I experienced it during my, my internship in US back then they will actually, tools out there already, but it was just very expensive to buy such tool from other providers on the market, it costs about a hundred thousand a year just to use such tool to help power the search, to identify the landscape.

[00:17:04] And the alternative are the free website. On the market making available by the government. So, and the free website, obviously the feature set, the tools aren't so powerful. So my idea was to build something in between something that is not so expensive, but something that can be widely available to everyone.

[00:17:26] So. With this, with my experience back in the US in the internship, I started this along the way, the first two to three years, I only spoke to a few prospects trying to pitch them the idea, but because the product wasn't, wasn't built, when, when I pitched them the idea, they will say, yes, this is a good good idea when you're ready come talk to me. The kind of feedback.

Omer Khan: [00:17:49] You know, I was talking to somebody the other day and he said they went, you know, they went into a, a bunker for two years to build a product before they went out and talked to customers and it worked out for them and, and it worked out for you, but it's also a very high-risk strategy to spend that much time and money over so many years, not knowing.

[00:18:12] With a high level of confidence that you have customers lined up. You know, these days we hear a lot of people talking about just, you know, the whole concept of MVP and, and, and just build enough and, and get it out there in front of customers as quickly as possible. When you look back at those first few years, do you feel that you are trying to build too much into the product, which is why it took two, three years to build it? Or was it simply because the type of problem you were solving, you just didn't see any other way to build the product faster?

Jeffrey Tiong: [00:18:56] Yes, no. I definitely agree that nowadays, to, to build a new product or even just to test a new market, new idea, we should use the MVP approach or the lean startup approach. In fact, now in past them, we, every year we still have new product development, one new ideas, you are testing it, testing out.

[00:19:17] So we are, we are now doing that as well. Just to do a quick prototype to test the market. Looking back, definitely. I, I think I could have done more along these lines, MVP, but back then it was so raw. I was fresh off-grid and I was just thinking, there is a problem and I want to solve this problem. And also you will now look back to build a prototype for our product.

[00:19:44] I think it was hard because it required a lot of data, to make this product kind of come alive. In terms of the concept, yes, we can build a mock-up to show, Hey, this is what the product can potentially do. And back then we did that to show, to, to prospect. And, that is all I did back then, but I will say definitely an MVP approach. Yes. In fact, we are doing it now and we could have done more like that on this, approach, using this approach.

Omer Khan: [00:20:15] So you finally ship the first version of the product. How did you go about getting that first sale?

Jeffrey Tiong: [00:20:25] Yeah, my first sales was I think around, I would say around late 2009, early 2010, about two years after I started the business and it was to my Alma Mater actually. If I remember correctly, I sold to our university library to purchase our tool because the library, universities is also one of the customer segment. They purchase our type of tools for the students and professors to use. And I just, I kind of remember all the details, but I guess I just hustle.  And just talk to the librarian.

[00:21:07] I remember there was a very nice kind lady, like, just give us a shot and say, since you are graduated from NUS and you've been working on this and they give us a chance to sell them these two, and even though back then, I, I will have to say our product just wasn't that good? I think there was my, my first year.

Omer Khan: [00:21:29] Okay, great. How long did that take after you, you had shipped the product? So this, this is pretty, this is kind of, you know, a couple of weeks, months?

Jeffrey Tiong: [00:21:37] After I shipped the product, I will say a couple of months, a few months, at least. Yeah.

Omer Khan: [00:21:43] Great. So that's a, that's a good sign. You've got your first customer. And then let's talk about how you took that to the next level. So we, you know, these days we talk about the whole idea of like, you know, 10 unaffiliated customers. And if you can get to that point, you're, you're, you've got a good idea and then a potential business. So how did you go about getting to those first 10?

[00:22:06] And was it still you going out and selling, or did you have someone helping you do that?

Jeffrey Tiong: [00:22:12] Yes in the early days, because we started first out of Asia and, we started with field sales. So we meet with our customers with our prospect face to face. And, only in around 2012, I met my partner in London and, his previous experience and background was, inside sales, outbound sales, where they can call up their customer.

[00:22:41] And do a web demo. And if the customer loves it, then they will pay us and we will give them the, the lock into the software. So this is, I will say the key couple to market strategy we use in the early days, maybe from 2012, even until now. In fact, of course, we now have different go to market, including inbound marketing, including all hard works I achieved in the early days.

[00:23:08] I think that what really helped us to propel ourselves in the first few years was this inside sales strategy where my partner based off London set up a team and we call our prospect and customer in US and in Europe from our, from London. That is our. I will key go to market in the early days.

Omer Khan: [00:23:33] What was that initially like when you're, you're reaching out to customers and trying to give them a demo where people responsive, would they interested in, in seeing the demo or, or did that take some work for you to get your, your messaging and, and kind of sales approach right. And then once people saw the demo, you know, you mentioned, Hey, you know that the first version wasn't very good. Did customers see that? Or, or were they pretty happy with, with what the product did at that time?

Jeffrey Tiong: [00:24:10] Yes. Yeah. In the early days when our product still wasn't so much, the whole day more journey, we actually have to, the very, it's very curated because a lot of things in part you work. So we have to, when we do the demo draw customer is actually pre-curated, but they more journey if you can imagine. Yeah.

Omer Khan: [00:24:34] Just so things don't break cool or

Jeffrey Tiong: [00:24:36] Yeah, just so thing don't break and we find things that highlight our products feature like some visualization, analysis, use certain keywords that we know it will work. And just, yeah.

Omer Khan: [00:24:50] And, and what, what was the response from from customers? Like, you know, as I said, we're what people. Like a lot of the times you can go out and reach out to people and people that are either this sort of lukewarm or they're like, yeah, now's not a good time.

[00:25:03] Or maybe later, or we're good. So was this enough of a pain that you had picked that immediately, most people wanted to get to a demo and find out what you were doing?

Jeffrey Tiong: [00:25:13] Yes, I will say, when we chance upon the R&D market back then the response was quite positive because a lot of them, they never seen this type of, tool in their career, in their world before.

[00:25:26] So to them, this is quite innovative. They are quite open to, for us to even just to poke a demo, to show them the tool. And when they see the tool, because we have good visualization to show, for example, how the pattern landscape is that they all were impressed by it. And they actually also have a need because R&D investment, they need to understand where, where the direction is, where the market is, what their companies are doing.

[00:25:54] And there wasn't any really user-friendly tool for R&D at least back then. So I will say the response when we chanced upon the R&D market, the response was quite positive overall.

Omer Khan: [00:26:06] Okay. Great. So the demos go well, you've got sort of the inside sales, it sounds like it's starting to work. What about the customer onboarding experience?

[00:26:19] If you've got a, if you've got a product, which you have to kind of have that very curated demo experience. How did that reality play out when real customers started using the product?

Jeffrey Tiong: [00:26:34] Yes. So in the early days, definitely when, after we saw our products, we got a lot of feedback and sometimes complaint from the customer on, Hey, how come this is not working? How come that is not working. And I remember there was a stressful time as well. Yes, we managed to get ourselves, but then we also need to make sure customer want to continue to and continue to renew the software because for a subscription, revenue is key. Retention rate is key. So in the early days we are souls.

[00:27:06] Yeah. At the same time, while we’re selling the product, we have to really also quickly improve our product in, in many different way. I will say it took us about two years as well in other, at least another two years plus to kind of make our product is really good enough for most of the scenario. And also we will identify customers that, that will be best suited for this type of scenario and let them use it. So there were some early days' experience.

Omer Khan: [00:27:37] Okay. So when you said identify customers for that type of scenario, tell me what you mean by that?

Jeffrey Tiong: [00:27:43] Yeah. As I mentioned in the early days, we tried to sell to the IP department, the legal department. First of all we will try to avoid selling to the department because that is a very high requirements department. So our product wasn't exactly the best fit to them, even though sometimes we may be able still, to sell to them, but there wasn't the best fit. And for R&D, there was a much better fit within the R&D different industry, also different, for example, selling into a life size are in a company as compared to manufacturing as compared to maybe a consumer good. So we will also identify some segments, somebody per segment industry, that our product is a better fit for them. So we try to kind of narrow down or to be more specific with our target audience back then and to sell to these target audience as much as possible

Omer Khan: [00:28:40] You know sometimes with, with, with startups and founders, there's a reluctance to to get the product too early in front of customers. And some of it is, you know, it's kind of like, it's our baby, and we don't want people to tell us that our baby is ugly and all that stuff. But also I think there's this fear that if my customers, my early adopters don't have a good experience, then that's going to damage my reputation.

[00:29:14] The product won't have credibility, the company won't have credibility and it sounds like you are dealing with those types of issues where, you know, you got the product out there, you've got people using it, it's doing the job because otherwise, people wouldn't have kept paying you for it, but there's also potentially a customer churn issue. There's a customer satisfaction issue where people are telling you about what's missing, or some people are complaining about that. What would you say to people who maybe be sort of stuck in that situation today and know that they need to get the product in front of customers, but are scared for those same reasons?

Jeffrey Tiong: [00:30:00] Yes, I can totally empathize with that. That is true from a, you treat your product as a baby because you spent so much time on it. And I will say given chance, I will definitely will like to promote the product sooner than back then. And it's key, I think that reminded me also a book I read by Geoffrey Moore, Crossing the Chasm, and in, in the Crossing the Chasm model, they are early adopters, late adopters and so on.

[00:30:34] And it's really key to find the early adopters for us back then, if we use this framework, the R&D. And some of them, even very visionary, R&D thought leader, they were our early adopters because R&D fortunately for us R&D by nature, they are work is very forefront. They're willing to take a chance on us.

[00:30:57] So even though our product, sometimes we told them, Hey, it's still not, not very robust and complete, but they're willing to give us a chance for that. So I think having identified the early adopters, the, those who are very passionate about new technologies and willing to give it a try, I think it's key for for. Identify the first group, well customer who we are willing to pay for your product, even though your product may not be mature yet.

Omer Khan: [00:31:26] Yeah, I think that's a great lesson and I think Geoffrey Moore's book, even though it's what, like 30 odd years old now it's still so relevant in so many ways and the way you just described it.

[00:31:38] Yeah. I mean, a lot of the times we think about segmenting the market the way you did and, and finding the R&D customers. But then as you said, you can, you can segment within that and probably there are R&D groups that are early adopters in their R&D groups that are probably, you know, would be defined as the laggards in that industry.

[00:32:00] And if your product is in the early stages, the early adopters are going to be more comfortable using that product. Even if it's not perfect, they're going to be more forgiving if the product fails now, and then, whereas somebody who is a laggard in that industry or that micro segment or whatever, you'd like to say, They're not going to put up with that and they're probably going to get a lot more upset about it.

[00:32:27] So I think there's just a really good lesson there that even once you've identified your target market and customers within that in the early stages, finding those early adopters within that market is super important.

Jeffrey Tiong: [00:32:41] Yeah, totally agree. Yeah.

Omer Khan: [00:32:43] So you did the inside sales and it sounds like that was basically the, the main way that you, you grew the business. At what point did you start looking at other things like inbound marketing?

Jeffrey Tiong: [00:32:59] I will say, yeah, quite late into our journey or say we start having our marketing department maybe around 2016, 17 to start PR or marketing function to have demand generation inbound marketing. It was quite late at our journey. Yeah.

Omer Khan: [00:33:19] So inside sales was pretty much. The driver of customer acquisition and growth for the first six, seven years,

Jeffrey Tiong: [00:33:30] I will say at least first for four to five years. Yeah.

Omer Khan: [00:33:35] Okay. So let's talk a little bit about your experience going through building this, this business, because, you know, we, we sort of explain to people where you went and the size of the business and customers, and 800 employees.

[00:33:55] And then that you've raised over $51 million. But the thing that we didn't explicitly sort of talk about was that not only is PatSnap, your first startup, it was basically your first job out of college. And so everything you've learned about jobs and business really it's come from the experience of this idea that you had.

[00:34:20] And you started to get you decided to go out and build. So tell me a little bit about some of the challenges that you've experienced by having had to not had any sort of other experience or frame of reference before you went into to building this business.

Jeffrey Tiong: [00:34:41] Yes. Yeah. Looking back. It was really tough, very tough because I, I started PatSnap fresh off college. I didn't have any context on in the working world, how to even recruit. How to be your customer and anything else, how to be your sales team. So I really didn't have much context and there was why even now still make a lot of mistakes to learn a lot every, every single day. I see that entrepreneurship based definitely on self-learning, understanding yourself better. And along the way is a very condensed, intense learning journey so at least this is how I view my journey so far.

Omer Khan: [00:35:30] When, when we were talking earlier, you said that some of the challenges for you in the early days, was having a lack of confidence or conviction. How did that sort of play out or manifest itself in terms of the way you were running the business or, or some of the difficulties that created?

Jeffrey Tiong: [00:35:52] Yes, because I guess all these actually, because this was my first experience for startup working experience. So I didn't have a lot of context, therefore, In the early days, I think I let go of that confidence or conviction, how to run a business where the business should go. So that was part of it. And also the other part of it is also my, I was still figuring out my leadership style and I still do every day how to improve my leadership style.

[00:36:25] But back then I was, I will be quite straightforward or direct with my team in terms of my thinking speed in a good day or bad day in a good mood or bad mood. I think I will just share everything with the team and that wasn't so good. Sometimes because in the early days, yeah. When, especially when I'm not in a good day, most of the time, because was quite, quite tough those days, so it actually impact the moral and also affect their confidence as well.

[00:36:58] I think there was one time where I think with my NGO investor, back then we went around the world, try to pitch for our idea for our first Series A funding. And I remember we go around the world and spend, I think one, two months time and didn't make any headway. And we were back to office. And I couldn't remember what they was the agent now, but somehow we had a heated debate, kind of a heated argument.

[00:37:30] And he told me that, Hey, Jeff, you are not fit to be a CEO. Or I was quite disappointed back then this comment came from him, someone I respected a lot and it's true. I think where each course, he said, Hey Jeff, when you talk to investor, when you pitch to investor or even talking to your team, You always show your, put your face on your sleeve.

[00:37:53] You are not confident even add your own idea. It should appear that you know, better than everyone on the table. So I was back then I just couldn't comprehend it because a lot of things were still very uncertain. Yes we were making some progress. We were making some summary when you all pulled out is still continuing to becoming the, to become better every day.

[00:38:13] But this is. Back then I just don't have the full context or can see very clearly where the company is going clearly, crystal clear. So there was why I, I wasn't, I didn't appear as confident or as much commission as I should have. So I couldn't recall a specific moment when this changed, but I think it just takes another couple months. One, two years slowly I realized that, hey actually, this is my, my style as well. I'm more, maybe I will call it authentic style where I would just say how it is to the people and this actually have this benefit that this usually actually help create the trust better as well between me and anyone I mean, of course they still are aside side that I need to improve.

[00:39:07] I shouldn't always show my concern in front of them. Sometimes I just have to deal with it myself. I put into it and then let them know what I believe is the direction. I think over the years, I saw small things happen more I would say more weight on the pill. I think it helped me also give me more confidence. I think overall that was the journey I had in terms of my personal leadership development.

Omer Khan: [00:39:34] Yeah, leadership is a tough game, right? And from my personal experience, and having spent many years at Microsoft, people want to be, they want to be involved. They want to know what's going on. They want as much transparency to feel like, you know, then they, they can have the confidence and they're not going to have any surprises around the corner and they can be successful at their roles, but they don't necessarily want all the shit that you as a leader are having to deal with. Right. And that's the tough thing that I personally experienced as well is like how much of that do you filter out and how much do you share with people? And sometimes I I've made those mistakes where I kind of was too open with some, some people trying to be completely transparent and people telling me that was the most demoralizing, all hands I've ever been to.

[00:40:31] And I was like, great, I'm not going to talk about that again. It's a really tough kind of balancing act. I think to, to know that, but I think that the important thing here is that, that it was you, you had that self-awareness and, and I think it starts there from, from understanding what you you're doing, what you feel, you know, you do well or where you need to improve.

[00:40:56] And then, and then having that awareness to, to sort of understand how, how people are perceiving your leadership style and communication.

Jeffrey Tiong: [00:41:04] Yeah, no, I think you've pointed out a very key concept of self-awareness. I think there's no, at least this is my own experience. And also over the years, talk to other entrepreneurs as well.

[00:41:18] There's no one, right type of leadership style. I think it came in different form. I see many different styles of leadership works as well. And as you mentioned in different contexts, dealing with different people is different as well. But I think self-awareness is the first step. I find that it's very aware that in this context scenario, it doesn't work so well. So next time just have to try something different. I think the self-awareness to be able to know that, Hey, this is not working it that one seems working well and have the courage to face it and see how I can do better the next time. I think that that is the key.

Omer Khan: [00:42:00] Yeah, I agree with you. And I think even today, there are still the leadership challenges for you.

[00:42:10] You were telling me that, you know, now it's a different set of challenges as you're, you're, you're bringing in, you know, sort of more mature senior leaders into the organization. Tell us about how that the challenges for you have sort of changed now?

Jeffrey Tiong: [00:42:28] Yes. So, as the organization grows from in the early 5% to 52, to hundreds, and now we are at about 800 people, I realized that my leadership style has to change accordingly as well. The early days when the team is small, 10-25 initially just prep everyone out for lunch for me, and then just, you know, talk to them and get to know everyone at the, but now at the current size of the business that, that wasn't possible anymore.

[00:43:02] So one thing, especially the last few years as we grow our business globally in a different region that also added a lot more complexity because different places, the culture is very different as well. For example, my team in Asia, as compared to in, in London, as compared to even in, in Toronto, in North America, claiming the culture was quite different.

[00:43:28] So how do I work with them to still be, and the one under one roof and PatSnap culture, there was actually not easy. And also we had to build and grow our leadership team. So in the early days was just myself and my few founding partners and along the way as, and most of us, we have altogether, including myself, four from the founding team, three of us, this is the first time first, proper job, fresh out of college.

[00:43:57] So all of us were very raw and inexperienced as well. And along the way, we also have more senior experienced season professional to join the leadership team and how that transition being done. How do I make sure the season professionals they can, they can have the expertise and jive well, with our early I call it the founding team DNA. That was also very crucial. And, I actually call it, we have a zero to one, the founding team, zero to one kind of experience. They are very innovative entrepreneurial, and they can start from nothing and build nothing to something with a lot of uncertainty in the founding team. And the early employees are good at that while we also need, now that the company has scaled, we also need another type of people who are very good at managing the day to day, who is very good at scaling up the operation, bringing it from one I call it from 1 to 10.

[00:44:59] So this is also, I find it is a very different skill set as compared to the early days, zero to one and how we gel that zero to one type of people and the. One to 10, how we put together. And we need both, even though our size, because we still need innovation, we still need new ideas. So that is what, some of the, some of the lesson I learned in the last two, three years.

Omer Khan: [00:45:24] You know, we often hear people talk about you can't succeed unless you have a co-founder and you're a solo founder. And you know, from what I can see you, you've done pretty, pretty well. What advice would you give to somebody who maybe is in that situation, who either hasn't been able to find the right co-founder or maybe for whatever reason feels like this is a journey that at this point they need to take on their own.

[00:45:55] What were some of the biggest challenges for you being that, that single founder? And what advice would you give somebody in that situation?

Jeffrey Tiong: [00:46:03] Yes in being a solo founder, it's definitely definitely path. I will say anyone in this position or in the, is the ultimate leader of an organization, I can. I really empathize with this. This, this is not easy because at the end of the day, someone have to make the final decision for the organization. And this is, this is not easy because you have to bear the consequences and you have to make sure you are making the right decision for your whole organization, for all your stakeholders, including your shareholder, your investor, your all your employees, everyone.

[00:46:44] So definitely there are many times. There were kind of a lonely times where I feel like I'm on a mountain at the taller mountain, the cold wind blowing at you. And this is a lonely, I'm fortunate that in the early days I have a founding team member. My partners now have been with me for more than 10 years and many times we also share. I call it, share the laughter and the joy and the tears together along the journey. We actually argue, we debate, we fight, but another day I think it's good that we actually do share our journey together and, talk about things together and they, yes, I have to make that decision, but having a strong team, good team, good partners are, it's the way it is the way to build an organization to scale an organization. And also only to, a strong team, you can achieve greater things because with yourself alone, you are nothing. So that there's kind of my my reflection on my journey so far.

Omer Khan: [00:47:50] Yeah. And I think even if you, if you have a co-founder or co-founders, you know, all the better, if you don't, then I think it's, do you have a good support network and partners or people that you can, you can at least how did you put it, share the laughter joy and tears. I think that's a beautiful way to put it. Love that.

Jeffrey Tiong: [00:48:15] Yes.

Omer Khan: [00:48:16] All right. We should wrap up Jeff. So I'm going to go into the lightning round. I've got, seven quickfire questions for you, so you're ready to go?

Jeffrey Tiong: [00:48:26] Yeah, sure.

Omer Khan: [00:48:27] What's the best piece of business advice you've ever received?

Jeffrey Tiong: [00:48:32] I think someone in the early days, there's one, someone told me before the, if anything you see on the news it's already too late.

[00:48:42] I thought that was quite true. If you see that there are a lot of people are, let's say talking about, let's say blockchain talking about AI by then. It's too late for you too look on. By definition, if you are looking at something innovative and new others don't know about it yet. So, I think sometimes just be confident at what you're working on and don't try to jump on what is hot at the moment?

Omer Khan: [00:49:08] Yeah. What book would you recommend to our audience and why?

Jeffrey Tiong: [00:49:13] See, there was a book called, Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz. Yeah.

Omer Khan: [00:49:19] Yup. Great book. What's one attribute or characteristic in your mind of a successful founder?

Jeffrey Tiong: [00:49:25] Yeah. There are many, many dimension to it. I think one thing is to be persistent, to be diligent and I think just needs some luck for a successful entrepreneur.

Omer Khan: [00:49:36] What's your favorite personal productivity tool or habit?

Jeffrey Tiong: [00:49:40] I like to go jogging whenever I feel just need some refreshment of my mind because after giving myself an exercise, I feel I feel better and I can think better.

Omer Khan: [00:49:53] What's a new or crazy business idea you'd love to pursue if you had the extra time and it hasn't been talked about on the news?

Jeffrey Tiong: [00:50:01] No, I actually, yeah, Elon Musk is really a good role model. If I have a chance, maybe something related to space exploration, or maybe, deep sea diving exploration as well.

Omer Khan: [00:50:15] What's an interesting or fun fact about you that most people don't know?

Jeffrey Tiong: [00:50:18] I guess maybe people see that I'm running an 800-person organization from, from the outside. I think maybe sometimes it's hard for them to think I'm actually an introvert. I actually like spending time alone. Of course, all the years I met more founders and CEO who also introvert, at least for me, I'm more introvert type.

Omer Khan: [00:50:40] Yeah, me too. It's I like, I like connecting with people. I love, you know, like these conversations we're having, but for me to recharge, I gotta have plenty of time alone in solitude. What's one of your most important passions outside of your work?

Jeffrey Tiong: [00:50:57] Unfortunately as a founder, I think my all my time is about building the business. I would say outside of that, I like to spend time with my, with my kids, watch some movies, read some books, do some exercise. That is what I do outside of my work.

Omer Khan: [00:51:14] Awesome. Jeff, thank you so much for joining me. it's been a pleasure, PatSnap is an area or a, a problem space that I had absolutely no knowledge about.

[00:51:24] And it's just been fascinating to learn more about the opportunities here and then also, you know, kind of following the journey of, of you from, from that internship and, and seeing how much of a pain this was. To, to building this business over the last 13 years. So really enjoyed the conversation. If people want to find out more about PatSnap, they can go to PatSnap.com. And if people want to get in touch with you, what's the best way for them to do that?

Jeffrey Tiong: [00:51:54] Yeah, they can just reach, reach out to me on LinkedIn or send an email to me at jtiong[at]PatSnap[dot]com.

Omer Khan: [00:52:02] Awesome. Thank you so much. I wish you all the best and thank you for waking up early in Shanghai to chat with me today.

Jeffrey Tiong: [00:52:08] No problem. Thank you. Thank you for the opportunity. Yeah, have a good weekend ahead.

Jeffrey Tiong: [00:52:14] Thank you

Omer Khan: [00:52:25] Cheers. Thank you.

Book Recommendation

The Show Notes

Omer Khan

Hi, I'm Omer, the founder of SaaS Club and host of The SaaS Podcast. I help early-stage founders and entrepreneurs to build, launch and grow successful SaaS businesses. Join me on this journey.