The SaaS Podcast

GoGuardian – The Importance of Founder Persistence & Mindset – with Advait Shinde [277]

GoGuardian – The Importance of Founder Persistence & Mindset

Advait Shinde is the co-founder and CEO of GoGuardian, a suite of products that provide K-12 schools with content filtering and monitoring, classroom management software, and a suicide prevention tool.

In 2014, Advait and his two co-founders built a Chrome extension to help schools with web filtering. But it seemed that no one was interested in their solution and their outreach emails didn't get much of a response either. They were almost ready to give up on their idea.

Luckily, one of the co-founders wasn't ready to give up just yet and kept contacting people despite the lack of interest and rejections. Thanks to his persistence they found some early users which helped to start collecting valuable feedback from their target market.

Later when the founders tried to raise money, they were rejected by investors. They were told that they were too young and inexperienced. And investors warned them that the K-12 market didn't have money and that focusing on Chromebooks was completely the wrong strategy.

Fortunately, the founders didn't listen. Today, GoGuardian is used by 18 million students, which is about a third of all K-12 students in the US. The company now employs over 300 people and generates north of $50M in annual recurring revenue (ARR).

In this interview, we talk about:

  • How the founders overcame the rejection and lack of interest from their target customers and investors
  • Why customers don't care about your features and what you need to focus on instead to grow sales
  • Why Advait regrets raising $5M in funding and his advice for founders who are looking to raise money
  • How a channel that the founders initially didn't even know existed, drives over 50% of sales today
  • The fear and uncertainty Advait experienced as a first time CEO and some interesting lessons he's learned from that

It's a great conversation and a great story. I hope you enjoy it.

Transcript

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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 took to advice, shindig, the co-founder and CEO of GoGuardian, a suite of products that provide K-12 schools with content filtering and monitoring classroom management software, and a suicide prevention tool in 2014 adviser and his two co-founders built a Chrome extension to help schools with web filtering.

[00:00:50] But it seemed that no one was interested in their solution and their outreach emails didn't get much of a response either. They were almost ready to give up on their idea. Luckily, one of the co-founders wasn't ready to give up just yet and kept contacting people despite the lack of interest and rejections, thanks to his persistence.

[00:01:08] They found some early users which helped them to start collecting valuable feedback from their target market. Later when the founders tried to raise money, they were rejected by investors. They were told that they were too young and inexperienced and investors warn them that the K-12 market didn't have money.

[00:01:29] And that focusing on Chromebooks was completely the wrong strategy. Fortunately the founders didn't listen. Today, GoGuardian is used by 18 million students, which is about a third of all K-12 students in the US. The company now employs over 300 people and generates North of $50 million in annual recurring revenue.

[00:01:54] In this interview, we talk about how the founders overcame the rejection and lack of interest from their target customers and investors, why customers don't care about your features and what you need to focus on instead to grow sales? Why Advait regrets, raising $5 million in funding and his advice for founders who are looking to raise money, which might surprise you.

[00:02:19] How a channel that the founders initially didn't even know existed now drives over 50% of their sales to date. And we talk about the fear and uncertainty Advait experienced as a first time CEO and some of the interesting lessons he's learned from that. It's a great conversation it's authentic and it's also a great story.

[00:02:45] So I hope you enjoy it. Advait welcome to the show.

Advait Shinde: [00:02:49] Good morning. Great to be here. Very excited.

Omer Khan: [00:02:52] You have a quote, something that inspires or motivates you, or just gets you out of bed that you can share with us?

Advait Shinde: [00:02:58] Yeah. My quote is know thyself. It actually comes from ancient Greece, and it was one of like the core maxims that was written in the temple at Delphi.

[00:03:08] And I'm a huge fan of Greek philosophy and stark philosophy and even Eastern philosophy. And this quote is super relevant to me because I have accumulated as anyone, really a ton of cultural conditioning, societal pressure that manifests itself as like fear and insecurity and compulsion. And I think what I've discovered is that a lot of that is almost entirely out of my conscious control.

[00:03:36] And so the way that I've reacted to situations or experiences is almost like. It's a happening in an unfolding outside of my desire to want to experience something in a particular way. So for example, if I have like a intense, like heated discussion and I'll often react in like a, a fear-based way, even though I would desire to not react in a fear based way.

[00:04:01] And so I've spent an enormous amount of time understanding my own internal psychology and developing a self-awareness around how I react to certain situations. And. What strategies that could put in place to essentially change my natural conditioned response to certain situations. And over time, I've just got an, like a very, very good handle around who I am and how I operate.

[00:04:25] And I've actually in turn managed to change my like default reaction to things as a result. And so that I think has been a really fulfilling and extremely interesting experience and, and sort of, I think I know was a maximum really just summarizes it.

Omer Khan: [00:04:40] So I've got to say that is probably the deepest explanation that I've had a guest give me on a quote and in my mind is like just spinning. It's like we could spend an hour just talking about what you just said and trying to unpack that. And obviously we've got other parts of your story to tell as well, but I do want to ask you one question about that when you said. You know, my kind of natural response was maybe a fear-based response that I've had to sort of work at that.

[00:05:11] Give me one example of like what you done to overcome that kind of response.

Advait Shinde: [00:05:17] Yeah, so, okay. Look running a business is super challenging and you're almost guaranteed to have very high stakes, intense situations nearly every day. And for me, I didn't have very much experience running a business on the business side of things.

[00:05:34] I was extremely comfortable in the engineering side of the world because I have an engineering background. But when it came to, for example, making a decision on hiring an exact or making a decision on having to let a critical person go or deciding how you want to structure your go to market or managing a board, almost always I was approaching those situations without prior experience. And therefore, without an inherent confidence that my intuition on what the approach should be was actually solid. And that is a perfect recipe for massive insecurity. And so what I found myself experiencing is just like intense emotions of does the other person realize that I have no idea what I'm doing and do I actually have any inherent value because I actually feel like I don't have any idea what I'm doing.

[00:06:25] And because I was experiencing these every single day and the intensity, the emotion was just so high. It wasn't really a matter of like dealing with it logically, it was more a matter of like, if I keep pushing my brain and my body through these experiences every day, like I'm going to like implode because that's just how intense it was.

[00:06:45] And I was essentially just forced to reconcile with like a different approach of understanding what's actually going on. Like the, the experiences were so intense that it was almost like going through like trauma. I hate to be hyperbolic about it, but that's kind of how it felt like, I didn't know what was happening in the moment.

[00:07:04] And afterwards I had to almost introspect and unpack, like. What was said and how I reacted and how I felt. And so what I did is actually found a coach, and this is not really like a traditional exact coach. It's more of like a person who was really, really solid in the world of like, spirituality as well as like mindfulness and emotional intelligence and self-awareness, and we would essentially just unpack each of these experiences together and get to the root of how I was experiencing, like it experience negatively was actually rooted in something deeper insecurity that I hadn't really understood about myself, maybe from childhood or from societal pressure from my parents or whatever.

[00:07:50] And that addressing that at the root, as well as developing an awareness in the moment that, Hey, I'm having this particular emotion and that it's going to color my thoughts, stop patterns in this particular way. But because I have an awareness of what's happening, I almost have this like escape, hatch that allows me to escape out of my default emotional state and almost like think logically for just a moment, even if it's in this corner over here. And in some cases just override the emotional response and willfully push myself to like an alternative response. I think that practice of developing an awareness of the conditioned response and superseding it with a desired response over time allowed me to really chip away at all of my conditioning to the point now where insecurity is maybe like 3% of my total emotional experience, whereas before it was like 95%.

[00:08:41] So it's been this like guardrail and the guard rail shift. And I think having a coach as well as just like a, a genuine curiosity around how I work and an introspection practice. I think over the course of four or five years has been the thing that's really turned the tide.

Omer Khan: [00:08:55] Well, I really appreciate you sharing that. And you know, it sort of lowering the guard it's, it's being vulnerable, but I think it shows a lot of authenticity and I think it's something that a lot of people struggle with, but don't talk about.

Advait Shinde: [00:09:10] Yeah. So, yeah. Yeah. I think the interesting thing is that everybody has insecurity, right? It's a fundamental condition of being human.

[00:09:18] And as soon as you come to realize that, then you're no longer detrimental about your own insecurity and that you're also interested in how other people are expressing their insecurity. And what I found is there's some people that express it in a, in an introverted way, let's say where they say less and they kind of proceed into the corner.

[00:09:37] Whereas other people express insecurity in an extroverted way. Where do they kind of overcompensate for their insecurity by being lustrous, or maybe you'd be like arrogant, but ultimately you can start to see in literally every human, the root of where people are fearful and you can in understanding about yourself as well as understanding it in other people, you can start to experiment with communication and approaches of how you engage with people.

[00:10:03] They either push them further into an insecure state or pull them out into like a safe state. And as you become a master of that kind of communication, I think that that's the source of just a tremendous well of like leadership and inspiration and, and genuine human connection to that. I think very few business people in the business world actually talk about, which is a little bit strange because I think it's actually the source of a tremendous amount of power.

Omer Khan: [00:10:29] So let's talk about. GoGuardian for people who aren't familiar with the business, can you tell us what does the product do? Who is it for? And what's the main problem you're helping to solve?

Advait Shinde: [00:10:43] Yeah. So to understand, GoGuardian at the beginning, understand that in K-12 a major shift has basically happened over the last, let's say starting five or six years ago.

[00:10:54] Where. At that point, the first batch of schools started to adopt low cost laptops paired with high-speed internet, and they would give out these laptops to every single kid in exchange for the old school textbooks. And the expectation was that every aspect of a learning experience, whether it's in class or homework at home, or even like exams was intended to happen in the context of these devices.

[00:11:19] So it's a huge shift. So out with the paperwork sheets and the paper textbooks and in with like Google docs and so on, you go to a classroom today, especially obviously in this remote learning era of COVID every aspect of it, of the educational experience or nearly every aspect of it is happening in these devices.

[00:11:37] Right? So kids are doing research on Wikipedia and typing up their essays on Google docs and they have headphones and they're listing the YouTube videos that are instructive and. They're using tools like pear deck to like have back and forth engagements with the teacher. And it's just, it looks very different than, than what the world looked like before.

[00:11:55] And when we noticed that that shift was happening, we were really motivated by it because as kids, we were deeply inspired by the internet and it was like the place where we really unleashed our curiosity. But when we were in school and in class, it was like the most dry and frustrating experience. And we were doing it kind of.

[00:12:17] Entirely begrudgingly. And the gap between these two experiences of the internet versus our experience of K-12 was so large that it created this like an angst in me that like, we need to be able to do better. And what I think I found five, six years ago when this first shift happened in K-12 was a huge opportunity to reconcile this gap.

[00:12:38] Meaning like the, the same engaging experiences that we had online as kids would now be potentially possible for 55 million students in the country, or even like all the students globally. And we wanted to play a part in that. And so the broadest framing of GoGuardian is. How do we enable the internet to drive more engaging and effective educational experiences?

[00:13:00] Because we have this philosophical belief that learning, if you maximize the potential of a learning opportunity, it stands to fundamentally shape that human and kind of inform who that person is and how they think about the world and learning is not this just like mechanical thing where you just accumulated a bunch of facts to be able to solve.

[00:13:20] Probably. Yeah, there is that aspect of it, but there's this deeper opportunity that I think that exists. And we think that the internet with all of its content, that, and the real-time nature of teachers being able to engage students much more interestingly and novelty wise, we think that all of that is going to be the way that we actually create these learning experiences.

[00:13:40] And so that is the broadest framing. What we specifically do is when school started to adopt the internet, they realized that it wasn't easy. There was a potential that the internet in an unfiltered way could cause a bunch of damage to young kids. Like you met to give you the internet to a second grader who no idea.

[00:14:00] What the world is like or what the internet is like. As a parent or as an educator, there's a tremendous amount of uncertainty or fear. And if there was any fear in educators' minds about using technology in an educational way, then that would essentially be a non-starter for realizing the fullest potential of all of this technology.

[00:14:19] So we started off by builder building solutions that essentially address the fear responses in educators and parents minds and gave everybody a sense of confidence that the devices could be used safely and productively. And so are our two products in this domain are GoGuardian Admin, which essentially focuses on the safety elements.

[00:14:41] So giving the second grader, the laptop, you can be entirely sure that nothing harmful is going to happen to them. And then GoGuardian Teachers is our second product and it focuses more on the real-time nature of learning. Meaning teachers need to have visibility into what students are doing on their devices in class and need to have a level of control of being able to push everybody to a YouTube video, for example, or turn off all the screens at once to be able to give instruction or chat with students that happen to be stuck and so on.

[00:15:13] And so those two products are essentially, I think the very beginnings of GoGuardian where we've, we feel that we're finally at a point where we've addressed the psychological concerns on behalf of educators to use technology in the classroom. But really we're, we're just getting started because the goal has always been, how do we maximize the potential of educational experiences using digital learning and the internet and so on.

[00:15:37] So that's, that's essentially kind of what we do. Maybe that's a little bit abstract. You can, you can tell me.

Omer Khan: [00:15:41] Yeah. So, I mean, if we boil it down, GoGuardian. I think I got this from your website somewhere is just like it provides things like analytics, web filtering, classroom management for schools.

[00:15:55] Initially you started off on, on, on Chrome OS and focusing on that, those devices. And now. GoGuardian works everywhere. And I also noticed that there was a sort of an dditional, I don't know if it's a separate product, but there's this thing called Beacon, which was basically like pitchers as a suicide prevention tool.

[00:16:14] So this is what sort of feels like started out as analytics or web filtering has grown into a whole bunch of different things that are needed in, in this environment as the world is changing. And certainly over the last year is changing much faster than many of us expected some of these things to happen.

Advait Shinde: [00:16:34] Yeah. Yeah. I would almost like flip it and say that our ambition was always to figure out how to drive engaging learning experiences. But what we realized when we started to talk to educators is what they actually needed was an internet filter that they were really confident in or a classroom management tool that they could use to actually drive useful and productive experiences in the classroom.

[00:16:56] And then along the way, we discovered with our data that the volume of compromised student mental health that we were seeing on our platform was just. So staggeringly large, that we felt compelled to go out of our way to address it in the form of. If we are noticing that a student is in need of help, meaning like searching for things like how much bleach do I need to drink in order to die?

[00:17:22] It's like a real search that, that has happened from, from a young kid. Yeah. I think for us at GoGuardian we dropped everything and we said, we need to solve this problem. And so we built an escalation tool that once we realized that a student is in need in that way that we bring in the school or we bring in the parent, or in some cases we bring in local like police to mobilize extremely rapidly because in, in several cases it's been like literally like a moment to moment, life or death kind of thing that we were able to preapp.

[00:17:53] So that's where Beacon came from, but all of these things are our initial prerequisites that I would suggest that we're checking in order to get into this newer era of really what's possible with digital learning. And I would suggest that we're, we're just at the beginning of, of realizing what's possible.

[00:18:11] It's a very exciting time.

Omer Khan: [00:18:13] So let's go back to, I guess, 2014. You had two co-founders Aza and Todd, neither of those guys are around now, but when you started out, what was the concept of the MVP? What did you guys decide you were going to build to start off with? And then how did you go on it and then sort of validate that idea?

Advait Shinde: [00:18:39] Yeah. So the original product was essentially a Chrome extension which did internet filtering in a different the way I guess, the internet filtering was being done before, meaning it took into account the actual content on the page. Yeah full text that the student was looking at to make a dynamic filtering decision instead of just pre-classifying websites and domain names, which is how internet filters work for.

[00:19:08] And the approach to build. It was essentially speaking with real IT administrators were responsible for making sure devices are being used safely and productively and understanding their needs and iterating extremely rapidly. I remember in the very beginning, we would have a conversation with a customer in the morning.

[00:19:28] We would code all evening and all night and get their requests functionality in, in fraction form, and then have another call with them the next day, showing them like the actual feature that we built and they would just be blown away by the speed. And the really interesting thing about that is that K-12 is very different from other verticals where schools don't really compete with each other, meaning the best practices that work in a particular school.

[00:19:56] Administrators, essentially talk about those with other peers in other districts. And so we saw this like a tremendous amount of viral word of mouth growth, where people would essentially find out about us through the grapevine. And that was essentially the source of a lot of our growth in the early days.

Omer Khan: [00:20:15] So when you found those first few customers where you were getting the feedback and iterating the product. How did you find those people? How did you get their attention? How did you get in front of them?

Advait Shinde: [00:20:25] Yeah, so I think this was really the source of, of my co-founder Aza and just his ability to be persistent he's by far the most persistent person that I know in the world where all of us had, essentially just like given up when we got to know, or a no response from people is I would just keep emailing and keep calling.

[00:20:48] And inevitably you get on the phone with, with a lot of these customers and he would just find a way through. And, and that was something that I learned a lot from him. Just like the idea that. When you think that the game is over, it's not even close to like the line of when it is actually over. And you can just kind of willfully keep pushing through getting access to people.

[00:21:11] When you think all hope is lost and that's essentially what he did. And so we were able to just with sheer brute force and persistence, get access to so many customers. And one other thing that we noticed is that in K-12, there's such a lack of good software. And I think that that's because like there's relatively less capital in K-12 maybe compared to other verticals, like B2B SaaS, where you can just raise ridiculous amounts of money.

[00:21:39] And unfortunately, I think that that's, that's like a misunderstood, like preconceived notion about what K-12 is. And perhaps like the lack of money in K-12. We talked about that in just a second, but what I'm trying to say is that. Because there was just a severe shortage of high quality software. As soon as we were able to put a good product in the hands of it, administrators.

[00:22:00] They just loved it and they soaked it up. They talked about it nonstop. And that I think is a really underrated thing. Like if you're able to genuinely solve a person's problem and a person who's ordinarily in severe need, meaning like nobody's in need of a photo sharing app or social media app. Right.

[00:22:19] But people in K-12 are a tremendous need. And there's probably so many other pockets of the world and the economy or a similar kind of need exists. And if you're able to genuinely solve these needs, people will love you for it. And that's essentially what we did.

Omer Khan: [00:22:35] So I want to talk about how much money there is in, in K-12 or how, how much people think there is. And some of the challenges that you face along the way before we do that, let's give people a sense of the size of the business. So, how many schools, how many students are using GoGaurdian today?

Advait Shinde: [00:22:59] Yeah. So it's about 18 million students. There's about 55 million students in America today. So that represents about a third of all students in the country.

Omer Khan: [00:23:07] Wow.

Advait Shinde: [00:23:08] And roughly a third of all schools and a third of all districts.

Omer Khan: [00:23:11] And how big is the team?

Advait Shinde: [00:23:14] The team I think we're mid 300 now in that ballpark, it's, it's tough to pin down the actual headcount number. Cause it keeps growing.

Omer Khan: [00:23:24] Yeah. And I know you don't talk specifically about revenue but give us a ballpark in terms of where you are.

Advait Shinde: [00:23:31] Yeah. All I can say is we're well, North of 50 million in revenue, let's say.

Omer Khan: [00:23:35] Okay, awesome. So that sets the context for where you are with the business and the general size of the business. And now I want to go back to some of the challenges that you faced along the way and why. Not why, but what some people told you this was maybe the wrong product or the wrong market, the wrong vertical to focus on.

[00:23:57] So maybe let's, let's start with when you were raising VC money or trying to raise VC money. I know this was one of the pushbacks that you got that K-12 doesn't have a lot of money. Like if he was selling something to an enterprise business. And then also the fact that you guys were only focusing on Chrome books at the time also seemed to be an issue that, you know, you were going down the wrong direction.

[00:24:24] So tell us a little bit about that and what you were hearing from VCs and other people about what you were doing wrong.

Advait Shinde: [00:24:32] Yeah, it was exactly that there was this, and I think continues to be this tremendous bias against focusing on K-12 people's comments are there's no money in schools. The sales cycles are really long.

[00:24:45] People in the space are not really interested in improving. They're very kind of stodgy and so on. And what we found in our personal experience in operating in K-12 was really the exact opposite for educators. Are really progressive, they're extremely earnest in terms of wanting to improve educational outcomes for students.

[00:25:05] There's a tremendous amount of money in the space. Meaning we spend as a society over $12,000 per student per year, just across state and local and federal government in terms of educational spend. And that is a lot of money especially if you've considered that there's over 55 million students. So the total amount of money being spent in education is tremendous.

[00:25:27] Now maybe the budgets are, are a lot more rigid and fixed compared to other verticals where there's a lot more risk that you can take and people are more interested in driving revenue and so on. So there are certainly some valid criticisms, but to paint a broad brush stroke on K-12 and say that it's just fundamentally not a good vertical I think is, is obviously wrong. And you can look at our business and so many other K-12 businesses that I think have emerged over the last five, six years that are growing pretty rapidly in the face of this like digital learning transformation.

Omer Khan: [00:26:00] And you're also told that as a team, you were too inexperienced and too young to, to take on a problem like this. So what kind of things were you hearing then?

Advait Shinde: [00:26:11] Yeah. So, I mean, it's just the classic stuff that I think it's more of like a catch all piece of feedback, as opposed to like a James. Like, I, I think people were just averse to like the idea of a Chrome extension business in K-12 like, what the heck is that?

[00:26:27] And five, six years ago, maybe that was a valid perspective, but what ended up happening. Over the last five, six years is that Chrome is now by far the most dominant platform. It's like 80% of all devices in schools or Chromebooks or something like that. And obviously we moved on for Chrome and now we support all platforms and things like that.

[00:26:46] But I think what the general feedback that we got was that investors just didn't understand K-12 they didn't understand digital learning. They didn't understand what would be the importance of this huge digital learning transformation that was about to happen. And therefore they just characterized our businesses, like not worth looking at. And I look forward to looking back to all the VC rejected emails that we got. So it'd be like told you so.

Omer Khan: [00:27:15] All right. So I want to dig into what's driven the growth. I know you, you said that a big part of the early growth came from word of mouth when you're helping, you know, one school or school district that, that the word spreads.

[00:27:29] And you're getting a lot of inbound interest, but there's a lot more to this story. It's not that easy just to go from zero to 18 million students on your platform. So walk us through what you guys did in those first few years to start driving this growth.

Advait Shinde: [00:27:48] Yeah. So I think the first critical prerequisite is to have really strong product market fit and even going beyond that, to create extremely high quality user experiences that drive like emotional satisfaction on, on behalf of your users.

[00:28:06] I think one of the things that really sets GoGuardian apart compared to a lot of the other K-12 tools in this space is that we've just paid an inordinate amount of detail into user experience. And we want the experience of a teacher and a student to be one of like delight and excitement. Every time they use our products.

[00:28:24] And if you can solve a user's problem critically well, and you can create that positive, emotional experience every time they click on a button or restart the or whatever. Like that is going to be the source of your growth and no amount of like tactical overcompensation in the form of like marketing or growth hacks or things like that is going to be able to overcompensate for fundamental product market fit and delighted users.

[00:28:51] And the universal's also true, meaning if you're unable to get that, that fit and user experience right then that actually becomes the source of growth and you don't actually have to rely on a lot of tactics. And so for us, We had that and we were in a place like I suggested where there was a lot of viral word of mouth and probably the first $20 million of business that we did was entirely inbound, eaning customers finding about, about us from conferences or from the ether and coming to us saying, Hey, I heard about it from guardian and really interested kind of try it. And so we didn't have to do anything in terms of outbound or or SEM, or even we didn't even think about SEO, like people just found out about us.

[00:29:35] And so there's something to be said, I think truly about starting with product and everything kind of emerging from there afterwards.

Omer Khan: [00:29:43] How many other products or alternatives in the market do you think were around at that point, what I'm trying to figure out is like, was there like such a lack in terms of a solution that you guys weren't having to do much and people were just coming to you or were there a number of other options and the reason people were coming to you was because of specific things that you were doing with the product and solving a problem in a way that other people weren't.

Advait Shinde: [00:30:18] Yeah. So if you think about it, internet filtering has been around for decades. And so when we built our first internet filtering product, the reason it worked really well is because the old internet filtering solutions were meant for enterprises.

[00:30:33] They were extremely stodgy and clumsy to work with. And they worked fine for like the computer lab era where you use the computer for one hour a week. But now when the entirety of the learning experience was meant to happen in the context of these devices, a misconfigured or a sucky internet filter would be essentially like the end of the learning experience. It would be, would cause a lot of distraction and things wouldn't work. And so when the big push from the progressive school districts happened, they called one-to-one in, in K-12 where the ratio of devices to students is one-to-one. So when the first schools started going one-to-one they started to notice that all of their internet filtering infrastructure was just not serving the one-to-one era. And that's exactly where we came in and we just did things entirely differently. We focused on, on UX. We focused on really understanding the problems that the educators were experiencing. Meaning it's not about internet filtering. Like internet filtering is a tactic.

[00:31:35] It's about creating psychological confidence on behalf of the educator, that when you can, the second device, it's going to be used safely and productively. And that distinction is super important and, and obviously like the network level tools that have been around for 30, 40 years were not predicated on this idea of creating emotional confidence.

[00:31:56] They're predicated on the idea of technical internet packet filtering or whatever. And so that difference is essentially what I'm trying to articulate. And I think it's a generalizable difference. And if you're able to really tap into that, I think it's the source of, of really tremendous businesses.

Omer Khan: [00:32:12] Yeah. And I think that is a really important point and an, and just as a personal experience as a parent. I've gone through that experience myself. And I mean, the solutions are a little different when you're talking about the home versus a school. But when you have kids who are bringing in school laptops, which have, you know, one level of filtering and whatever, they're using their own devices at home, they have a mobile phone.

[00:32:40] They're browsing internet and it's as a parent. And I'm, I'm a pretty tech savvy guy, but it's a nightmare trying to figure out how to control that, how to do it consistently. Well, you think you've got on top of something there and then they figure out a different way to do something else on a different device.

[00:33:00] And it's just like playing whack-a-mole and honestly you got to, for me, it got to the point where it's like, every time there's an issue that, you know, we have with the kids, like, Oh my God, it's like, we just found out that, you know, one of the kids was watching Netflix for five hours a day when they were supposed to be in front of the computer studying or something.

[00:33:17] And it really, I can really feel it like, you know, this stomach churning kind of thing in terms of, Oh my God, I can't get on top of this and I often wonder if I feel like that and I kind of understand technology, what does your average non-technical parent to have to deal with? And it goes back to what you just said earlier.

[00:33:39] It's not about filtering or screen time or the number of hours, what you really need to get to is giving people. Peace of mind that your child is safe and that they're not excessively using the devices, I guess, is what I'm coming to. Right? So, so that is much more important than this. The features that this thing has.

Advait Shinde: [00:34:03] Yeah. That's exactly it. The shift from features to understanding and empathizing with the emotional state of the users and pushing them into a better emotional state is the whole point of why you build products.

Omer Khan: [00:34:15] So tell me a little bit about the product today. Like just in terms, I mean, we don't need to get into deep into the sort of the technology, but.

[00:34:24] How is it working today? I mean, you explained sort of the Chrome extension and really you're looking at the contents of the page and figuring out whether it's appropriate or not, when you then start saying, okay, we're going to support. All devices and now we're on windows and whatever, obviously it becomes a little bit more complicated to do that. So how, how is that working today? Just in terms of like the architecture or the general design of the product?

Advait Shinde: [00:34:56] Yeah. So we essentially have clients that run on all of the various operating systems and abstractly, we just look at the content, whether it's like an app that's running or a website that is running.

[00:35:11] And our philosophy is that we. Looking through the eyes of the student, like what do they see? They see texts, they see images and they see videos. And because of the dynamic nature of the internet, where most of the content that we look at is actually user generated in real time, you can't pre classify the internet.

[00:35:29] So any semblance of black categorization is just. It's an archaic way of thinking about filtering. And so you have to dynamically classify content based on the actual pixels that the student is looking at. And so we built a series of models that cost by text and images and video. And over time, we've refined those to develop a, basically a precise understanding of everything from appropriateness to things like violence, to things like suicide.

[00:35:55] And self-harm. And so that classification essentially informed, like what actions we take. So do we want to block that content or do we want to notify a parent or do we want to send a message to a student saying, Hey, we noticed this might be inappropriate. Do you want to keep doing it? Or we essentially trust you to make good digital citizenship decisions.

[00:36:15] So we have a slew of various actions that we can take. And then separately from that, a lot of the ways that, that our teacher product works essentially revolves around the real-time nature of learning, meaning you need to get the information and the state of the device, the student device, and put it in front of the teacher in a way that's actually useful that helps them really understand what's actually going on, on, in the student's mind.

[00:36:41] And then you need to give an element of control in the teacher's hands, to be able to influence the student learning experience in the form of pushing them in one direction, maybe opening up a tab or sending everybody to a YouTube video or chatting with a student that may be stopped or starting a group video call.

[00:36:59]We support all of these things and that aspects of, of what the product does essentially, it's all about like the real-time back and forth information sharing. So we have classification on one hand, we have actions that we can take on the back of that classification. And then we have real-time back and forth, like information sharing and commands, and that abstractly summarizes essentially how our products work.

Omer Khan: [00:37:23] Right. So, so a traditional web filtering solution might say, you know, DubDubDub domain.com is good or bad, and we're going to filter that. And you're, you're sort of taking more of a search engine, like a Google type approach in terms of let's actually look at the page. Let's actually see what's there in terms of.

[00:37:45] You know, text and images. What does that infer? What's the intent? How do, how do we classify that? And then you're reaching your own decisions in terms of whether that piece of content is relevant or not.

Advait Shinde: [00:37:57] That's right. Like we've had students on our platform use facebook.com to collaborate on group projects. And we've had also students on our platform use Facebook to buy guns. And so the fact that they're on facebook.com tells you literally nothing about what they're actually doing, and you need to go much deeper to really have a sense of confidence that the devices are being used safely.

Omer Khan: [00:38:19] Now you raised money a few years ago. Can you talk about like how much you've raised, but I know also that more interesting part of that is not that number, but the fact that I don't think you spent any of it, right?

Advait Shinde: [00:38:34] Yeah. So yeah. Most bizarre story we have here where we raised $5 million in Series A in 2015, we sold a third of the business for it.

[00:38:46] And we didn't spend a dollar of that 5 million. And what we didn't realize at the time is that our, the business was actually tremendously cashflow positive, and this is actually a huge benefit of building in K-12 business. And so for those of you who are entrepreneurs that are thinking about starting a business, and they're worried about K-12 the biggest plus point is that school districts typically by an annual or multi-year increments, and they're willing to pay all that money upfront on day one, even though they have a three-year contract, let's say. And so you're booking these huge contracts and collecting the cash on day one. And we essentially were cashflow positive, extremely early on and maintain cash flow positivity through today.

[00:39:28] So it was very dissimilar to maybe a traditional tech company, which has to raise and raise and raise and use external capital to keep growing. Like we've been cashflow positive and we didn't think critically about that. And instead, we just assume that in order to build a real tech company, you need to bring on a VC.

[00:39:47] And you're not a real tech company without being VC backed. And so we sold a third of the company to have essentially this like rubber stamp. And that house is worth hundreds of millions of dollars. There's this huge mistake, I guess, that we made. And I think that there's a lot of entrepreneurs out there.

[00:40:04] That think about raising capital in a similar way. I think that it's this like existential thing that you have to do, and you're just not a real business without it. And I think it's much more useful to think about capital as a thing that unblocks you in a particular domain, meaning there's some aspects of your business that are genuinely capital constraint, meaning if you have server costs or hiring needs, and so on there's aspects of your business that are genuinely blocked there, but there's other aspects of your business that are not capital constraint, like for example, iterating on product and especially in the cloud era where there's almost like very little capital costs required to drive millions of users.

[00:40:44] And so I think if you're an entrepreneur, you need to really think critically about were you capital constraint,  were you not capital constrained, push the envelope on the non-capital constraint, parts of the business, as far as you can. And only raise money in the context of the capital constraint parts, and only raise the amount that you actually need.

[00:41:03] And we weren't thinking about the world in that way at all. We just said, we need VC money. And once we get VC money, we'll be on tech crunch and we'll get this big article and then it's going to be the sorts of growth, which is just the entirely backwards way of thinking about it.

Omer Khan: [00:41:16] Yeah. I love that. I think a lot of people start out with exactly that same assumption that we need money for whatever reason. And maybe if they challenge themselves, they could find ways around that. And I think you're a great example of even if you raise the money, you might look back at that and say, I wish I hadn't raised them. So think carefully.

[00:41:44] Now the other thing about the GoGuardian business is that when we were talking earlier, you told me that 50% of your revenue today is coming from the channels, the resellers, and that this was something that was kind of completely off your radar. Sort of earlier in the sort of the business, can you just, just sort of set that up for us in terms of what, what actually means in terms of a reseller channel here and how did you discover that, that opportunity and then sort of, how long did it take to sort of come about?

Advait Shinde: [00:42:23] Yeah. So I'll fully admit that when I started as an engineer, I had no semblance of understanding of what the channel was, let alone like the fact that it, it may or may not be like really valuable in our context. So the channel here in K-12 like you can think about it this way. When a school needs to buy a bunch of desks and a chalkboard and chalk and a bunch of Chromebooks.

[00:42:47] They don't want to go to five or six different vendors to buy all those things because they have to buy so much and they would much rather prefer to go through a single vendor that essentially resells all of those other items so that they can essentially have a seamless procurement process. And they don't have to go through the legal hoops of signing  MSA's with a bunch of different vendors and bending them and so on. And so one of the biggest such vendors in the space is called CDW. They have like a government division called CDWG and the vast majority of all Chromebooks I think are actually bought through CDW. And so in realizing this, we figured if a school is buying Chromebooks through CDW, they should also just buy, GoGuardian at the same time.

[00:43:34] And the CDW rep that's a set incentivized to drive more sales for the school can essentially pitch GoGuardian while the school district is buying their devices. And so we are super happy to give up margin to our channel partners because there's so many of them out. There's hundreds of reps out there that are selling all kinds of stuff at schools.

[00:43:59] And to the extent that they're incentivized to also sell GoGuardian has been a tremendous source of our success and our growth. We're huge fans of the channel and there's players like companies you've never really heard of like Dell as a huge like channel business in K-12 there's another company called Synnex and as a traditional consumer technologies, you don't know about this stuff.

[00:44:21] And so I think the general learning here is that you need to, with utmost humility, put aside your preconceived notions about how a particular ecosystem works. And look at it very critically. You guys, if you're sort of explorer landing on an alien planet, trying to understand how everything works and once you understand who the players are and how they buy and how they think about budgets and how they think about trade-offs between cost and value and how it all fits together. It's really only from that understanding that you can put together a solid go to market. And it took us years and years and years of understanding and trial and error and iteration to get to this understanding.

[00:45:03] But from this understanding, we're able to have really high, high level of confidence that our go to market next year and the year afters is going to work well. And so I guess from the perspective of an entrepreneur, that's thinking about the world in a purely technology first context, This is like a great approach.

[00:45:20] You just need to really be inquisitive and curious and understand how money exchanges, hands, and how people think about all, all, all of like the ecosystem of buying and so on. And I think from that understanding, you can be just way more effective at driving sales.

Omer Khan: [00:45:36] So when you first sort of identified this opportunity, Hey, there's this, we could be working with these resellers. Did you get any pushback? Did you get objections to this? How hard was it to do that kind of a biz dev deal?

Advait Shinde: [00:45:49] Yeah, so initially it was super hard because we were nobody. Right? And you kind of have this chicken and egg problem. So one approach that we took, which I think is generalizable is that we were so optimistic that in the long-term that the channel was going to be critical to our success.

[00:46:07] Then in the short term, we did the entire sales cycle on behalf of the channel. So we found that customers came to us. We ran the trials. We got them excited about the product and when they were ready to buy, we called up our friends at CDW and we said, Hey, this customer is ready to buy. We just want to book them on your paper and you can take the commission.

[00:46:29] And so these reps literally have to do no work and they were super excited obviously as a result because they were just getting commissioned for very little effort and in turn. And what they found was that customers were very passionate about GoGuardian and, and when the renewal came later, they were excited about renewing.

[00:46:48] And obviously in the SaaS era, like the recurring revenue model is just phenomenal and tremendous. And so pretty incentivizing channel partners by doing all of the heavy lifting in front, essentially starts up the flywheel, which ends up being really, really valuable in the long term. So that's an approach that was strongly recommended in your vertical over channel partners are essential.

Omer Khan: [00:47:11] Yeah. That's awesome. All right, we're going to have to wrap up. So one thing I want to ask you before we get into the lightning round is. It's been quite a journey when you sort of look back at you sort of launching this business just six years ago to where you are today. If you could go back to 2014 and give yourself any advice, what would that be?

Advait Shinde: [00:47:36] I think I would give myself the advice of when you're having a challenging experience, meaning if you're feeling uncomfortable or if you're feeling like the challenge level is higher, the emotional intensity is high by default as humans, we have this tendency to avoid discomfort, and instead, if you're able to override the tendency to avoid discomfort, instead of kind of level up, it's like square up to the challenging and kind of willfully push yourself through the experience. What inevitably happens is, is massive amounts of growth and learning. And so. If you ever find yourself in an intense experience like this, like you should have the awareness that like, it's not just discomfort.

[00:48:22] Like the superficial discomfort that you're seeing is not just like, like superficially negative. Like really there is a learning that is going to happen as a result of this discomfort. And therefore you should get excited and willfully step up to the plate and kind of push through. And if you truly internalize that you almost become like addicted and excited about like challenge and, and discomfort and these, these opportunities, because you know that there's, there's really gold on the other end every single time.

Omer Khan: [00:48:52] Yeah. I love that. Yeah. And, and from a personal experience, I mean, back in the days when, you know, I was, I was at Microsoft, there were times when I find myself in situations which were, you know, a high pressure, you know, maybe you're doing some sort of exec review or something. And this was sort of this self-awareness that I kind of started to develop, which was I realized I was always looking forward to how quickly I could get over this thing. How quickly can I get it to end?

[00:49:24] And when I started to shift that a little bit and say, this is actually a growth opportunity. And how can I grow from this, this opportunity? It, it still was like, you know, it was still challenging, but it was a different mindset and I felt more more present through the process rather than just get through it, get through it.

[00:49:47] So yeah. Good, great, great, great advice. All right, let's get onto the lightning round. I'm going to ask you seven quick fire questions. Just try to answer them as quickly as you can. Okay. What's the best piece of business advice you've ever received?

Advait Shinde: [00:50:01] So I'm a huge fan of Ray Dalio and he has, one of his principal is, is that the fact that mistakes are inevitable and every single person makes them, but learning from these mistakes is an absolute requirement.

[00:50:16] So that essentially like lowers like the guilt or judgment associated with making a mistake, but it increases the level of responsibility of doing the introspection afterwards to level up and learn. And I think that that is like the most prescient like useful advice that, that I, I kind of live by every single day.

Omer Khan: [00:50:36] Ray Dalio is, is quite a superstar. I saw an email from him yesterday, where he was basically giving away money that you can sign up for and give to whatever charity you want. And I think he's just created this fund and. Yeah, certainly a really interesting guy. What book would you recommend to our audience and why?

Advait Shinde: [00:50:53] I would recommend Waking Up by Sam Harris, as I talked about earlier, like know thyself is a critical, maximum and the process of, of introspection or becoming more aware of your conscious experience, I think is a critical discipline in order to be able to know yourself. And this book essentially provides a framework for how to understand your conscious experience.

[00:51:19] In a way that sort of devoid of all, let's say like a dogma or superstition, it's a very empirical recipe and approach for how to make products in this domain, I think has been the single most impactful book that I've heard.

Omer Khan: [00:51:32] Wow. What's one attribute or characteristic in your line of a successful founder?

Advait Shinde: [00:51:36] I think thinking from first principles, meaning not inheriting the beliefs that are popular from society or investors or the world, and said being able to understand how the world works through your own interpretation and then putting together ideas and approaches on the basis of your unique understanding.

Omer Khan: [00:51:54] What's your favorite personal productivity tool or habit?

Advait Shinde: [00:51:58] I think it is a sleeping. I sleep a lot. I sleep almost like eight and a half to nine hours a day. And what I've found is that the quality of my thinking as a result of sleeping, let's say an extra hour is just so much higher compared to losing that hour that I would forego the actual hour of the day because the remaining hours are just that much more effective. So I just go out of my way to sleep.

Omer Khan: [00:52:25] Love it. What's the new, crazy business idea you'd love to pursue if you had the extra time?

Advait Shinde: [00:52:30] I'm a huge fan of this whole concept of the brain computer interface. I think it's like probably one of the most critical problems that we need to solve society and the speaking.

[00:52:41] And if I had more time that that is something that I would absolutely be working on.

Omer Khan: [00:52:46] Well, what's an interesting, well, fun fact about you that most people don't know?

Advait Shinde: [00:52:50] I'm working on my private pilot's license now. So flying a bunch during the course of the week and it's, it's fascinating.

Omer Khan: [00:52:58] Nice. And finally, what's one of your most important passions outside of your work?

Advait Shinde: [00:53:03] I'm big chess player. So I play a ton of chess. I'm just extremely passionate about learning in general, across all domains. And I really enjoyed just helping a lot of other entrepreneurs who are earlier on in their business. Avoid a lot of the mistakes that I made, so that, that really gives me a lot of fulfillment and joy.

Omer Khan: [00:53:22] Well, thank you so much for, for joining me today. I think that you've shared a lot here and. It's it's really hard to, to unpack six years of so much activity and growth and so on, but there's been a lot of useful advice.

[00:53:42] I think that's come through from here. That based on your own experience that people can take away and figure out what does that mean to them? Or how can they think differently about what they're doing? If people want to check out, GoGuardian, they can go to goguardian.com. And if people want to get in touch with you, what's the best way for them to do that?

Advait Shinde: [00:54:02] Just send me an email advait[at]goguardian[dot]com.

Omer Khan: [00:54:05] Awesome. Advait thank you for making the time and I wish you the best of success and say hi to Zach for me as well.

Advait Shinde: [00:54:14] Sounds good right on. Thank you very much.

Omer Khan: [00:54:16] Cheers.

Advait Shinde: [00:54:17] Take care.

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The Show Notes