Lead generation is an essential activity for any company that intends to grow and the primary focus of sales development reps (SDRs). Despite the growing popularity of new virtual outreach channels, a phone call is still by far the most effective way to set a meeting with a prospect. Today, Marketing Ops teams provide SDRs with lists of thousands of leads. Those lists are often inaccurate and out-of-date and require SDRs to manually dial each number one by one. An average SDR has 25–50 activities per day and only 22% of SDR-sourced opportunities end up as closed business. Despite this low conversion rate, 88% of account based marketers cite outbound SDRs as one of the most effective channel tactics.
One of the most important factors contributing to sales development success is using technology tools to increase rep activity. Yet, sales teams with lead/account scoring technology achieved negative 8.4% quota when compared to teams with no tech at all, underlining the lack of quality solutions currently on the market.
Orum Co-founder and CEO, Jason Dorfman, experienced this technology gap first hand when he built out the Inside Sales team at Rubrik. His reps were making 100 calls a day each, but only a handful of prospects were picking up. Jason looked into technology solutions that could potentially help his team become more efficient and the only solution on the market that came close to serving his team’s need relied on human agents making calls on the company’s behalf in parallel. Jason felt this solution was half baked and wondered what sort of impact automation could play when it came to cold calling, the most painful and redundant part of a SDR’s role. Shortly after this realization, Jason met his co-founder Karthik Viswanathan and the two dug into the problem. The co-founders confirmed the $40B call center market was dominated by outdated legacy platforms and was ripe for disruption. And so, Orum, a next generation dialing platform, was born. In less than three years, Orum has hosted over 3M calls on their platform and has enabled SDRs to have 5–10x more conversations per day, equating to a massive increase in revenue for enterprise companies.
We recently sat down with Jason to better understand his vision for Orum, his entrepreneurial journey, tips for aspiring entrepreneurs, and more.
Unusual: Can you give us a little background on yourself?
Jason: I grew up in LA and didn’t really have a whole lot of exposure to tech or really, business in general. My dad was a dentist and I did not come from a family of entrepreneurs or engineers. When I enrolled at UC Santa Barbara, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do, but figured I’d become a lawyer to meet my perceived definition of success. I bought the LSAT book and started going down that path when a friend encouraged me to take classes in the Technology Management Program in the Engineering Department. The program brought in former entrepreneurs and tech executives to teach classes on entrepreneurship and business management. Gaining exposure to these people and listening to their startup journeys was eye-opening. I thought, “Holy crap! I want to do that — that sounds way more interesting than my LSAT book.” I was completely hooked and ended up participating in the New Venture competition and joined the Student Entrepreneurs Association. My LSAT book found its way to the trash and I never looked back.
Unusual: So after you realized startup life was for you, did you also immediately know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
Jason: Like many people who have the entrepreneurial bug, I’ve never been a huge fan of authority and always wanted to own my own business, but didn’t know a software startup was a vehicle for that until college. That said, my entrepreneurial journey took a bit of a detour at first. Right when the economy tanked in 2010, I graduated and became quite concerned about getting a job. It was actually very difficult. At the time, there were many people competing for entry-level jobs. I was competing with 30-year-olds and 40-year-olds for a job that paid $30k per year. I got lucky and through a friend was hired at RightScale (acquired by Flexera), a tech company in Santa Barbara, as a sales development rep. At the time, RightScale was considered a hot startup that was growing rapidly. I ended up being the top SDR there and was quickly promoted to an AE role. When I joined, I was the 90th employee and by the time I left, there were 250 employees. This doesn’t sound like crazy growth by today’s standards, but at the time it was considered legitimate startup experience. So, although I didn’t immediately jump into my entrepreneurial ambition, this actually turned out to be a great learning experience I didn’t realize I needed at the time.
Unusual: After taking your detour, how did you get your entrepreneurial journey back on track?
Jason: I never lost sight of my entrepreneurial ambition — from the minute I joined RightScale, I was plotting how to start my own company in the background. At the time, I lived with a guy who was starting up an iPhone repair company and we were both applying to Y Combinator. Unfortunately for me, he was accepted and I was not. However, he ended up inviting me up to Silicon Valley once he moved there and snuck me into a Y Combinator party. At the party, I was rubbing shoulders with Paul Graham, the founders of Gusto, and all these other people I was reading about in TechCrunch at the time and I thought, “What am I doing in SoCal? I need to move here immediately.” I ended up quitting my job — which was crazy since I was doing so well — and a week later I was crashing on my old roommate’s couch. Immediately, I began pursuing my startup full-time, raising money, etc. Unfortunately, my startup pretty much failed. We ended up in a small buyout, but it was a complete disaster. This was a huge learning experience for me. I just did not have the network, mentorship, or all the pieces I needed to make the company successful. Instead, I started the company because I wanted to create a startup. That experience was a very, very tough pill to swallow and extremely emotional. However — and this will likely sound cliché — I learned a lot from this failure and it has shaped a lot of my thinking about entrepreneurship.
Unusual: What was your “aha” moment that led you to begin working on Orum?
Jason: After my startup disintegrated, I had to figure out what was next. I thought about going back to my sales career or starting another company. Building a new startup wasn’t really an option because I wasn’t with my co-founder anymore, the option was financially painful, etc. Fortunately, I found an in-between opportunity when I was introduced to Bipul Sinha, who at the time was a partner at Lightspeed, but was gearing up to start Rubrik. He recruited me to be his first sales/business hire at Rubrik when the company was only 12 people and in stealth mode. I ended up staying at Rubrik for five and a half years and through 1,700 plus employees. It was quite a crazy ride. To put it in perspective, we had a $10M quarter a year after we started selling, went from no name/no logo company with $0 revenue when I joined to a billion dollar company in 3 years, and a multi-billion dollar company in 5 years. I learned a tremendous amount from Bipul about how to build a company and the ability to observe the company at every stage of growth.
I started off as an individual contributor sales rep, but was promoted and managed our inside sales team and eventually, our corporate sales team. When I built out the inside sales team, I obtained unique insight and exposure into the tools and processes involved. I always thought the SDR role was very repetitive, but the exposure into the tools/processes involved with the role made me realize there was a lot of room for automation. I started to explore and purchase solutions to help alleviate the pain of cold calling — the most painful and redundant part of being an SDR — and I just couldn’t get over how crusty the market was. All of the tools on the market were solving other problems and not the issue I was trying to mitigate. My core problem was that my SDRs were making 100 calls each and only a handful of people were picking up. The phone is still the most effective meeting setting tool and I thought, “How is there no next generation solution for this?” Without going into too much depth, one of the platforms I was reviewing at the time has a software interface and human agents who make calls on your behalf in parallel. To me, this was half baked and I thought, “What if we could do this with artificial intelligence rather than humans?” This would enable the rep to have multiple conversations a day, versus sitting there, manually dialing, and listening to the phone ring. I felt there was something there. At the time, I was advising startups and through this, was introduced to my co-founder, Karthik Viswanathan. We clicked and began to really look into the gap I had uncovered.
Unusual: Can you tell us a bit more about Orum, its mission, and vision?
Jason: Orum provides sales enablement technology for SDR/Inside Sales teams. With Orum’s parallel dialer, sales reps can dial multiple numbers at once and Orum’s speech recognition will automatically recognize and connect reps with humans who pick up. Orum enables sales teams to reach their target prospects quickly, leading to consistent conversation, faster training, and more meetings booked. Our mission is to connect the world through conversations and ultimately, our vision is to build a dominant company in the sales and call center space.
Unusual: Through your journey, what have you found to be the most difficult part about being an entrepreneur?
Jason: I think there’s a period of time between the idea creation and then actually turning that idea into a real business where you encounter a lot of doubt and dismissiveness. No one believes you have what it takes to really quit your job and start a business. No one’s ever going to give you permission to do this. I think what people don’t realize is there’s going to be a year or two where you’re putting a lot of work into this thing and no one gives a sh*t, no one really cares, and everyone is kind of rolling their eyes at you. You have to be a little bit crazy to endure that and it can be a lonely process — even with a cofounder. I think it’s also important to point out that building a startup isn’t just difficult for a founder, but is also a challenging experience for founding/early employees. While it may be the founders who have the original insight and vision, early employees are also taking tremendous risk and shouldering the challenge of launching a startup.
Unusual: Who has had the biggest influence on you and/or your career?
Jason: Bipul, the CEO of Rubrik, has had a big professional influence on me. A major lesson he has taught me is that people limit themselves with their own beliefs. If you grew up in a family of lawyers and you decide to become a lawyer, that’s usually all you’re going to be because in your head, becoming a lawyer equates to success. So, once you get your law degree from Yale or wherever, get a job, and you’re making $200k, you’ve made it and don’t have to do anything more. When I look at Bipul’s story, it’s different. He was born in India with very little. He became an engineer and got a job at Oracle. That’s probably super successful compared to the context he came from. But that wasn’t enough for him. He ended up going to Wharton, becoming a Venture Capitalist, and the first investor in Nutanix. But then, all of that still wasn’t enough and he became a founder and built a multi-billion dollar company. Steve Jobs talked a lot about this concept — how most people’s limits are self-imposed. Bipul is the perfect example of what happens when you strip away those limitations.
Unusual: What do you wish you knew when you were just starting your entrepreneurial journey?
Jason: I wish I knew how much my network mattered. If 22-year-old me were to approach 31-year-old me and ask if he should start a company, I’d say, “Who the heck is going to work for you? I mean think about it, if you were to go and hire a VP of Sales, how would you know if they were doing a good job? How are you going to get in touch with investors?” I think with a lot of consumer startups (i.e. Facebook) it’s like, “I came up with this idea in college and then it blew up. Now I’m this big executive.” In B2B and enterprise, you don’t have those connections to recruit from and the context to understand what happens in different phases of the company. You don’t know what you don’t know. I wish I would have understood the importance of having mentors earlier on in my career.
Unusual: What is the biggest fundraising tip that you would give other entrepreneurs?
Jason: Fundraising happened pretty quickly for us, but it was also very stressful. I think you need to treat the fundraising process a bit like sales — you need to have a lot of meetings. When I look back at some of my mistakes, I didn’t have the volume. I’d have a few meetings and I’d think, “Okay, they told me my idea sucks. I guess my idea sucks, so I need to figure something out.” But even if you’re Uber or some other hot startup where it’s a great idea, if you do 50–60 meetings, 70–80% of the investors are going to turn their nose up at you. You have to be really resilient. This is fairly easy for me as a salesperson, but when it is your company, the rejection is even more personal. This is especially true when you’re taking time away from working on your company to meet with people who are going to give you feedback that isn’t very useful most of the time and can be very negative and/or depressing. You need to keep plowing forward and set-up a large volume of meetings clustered together in a short timeframe (2–3 weeks) because it’s very distracting from building your company. Also, commit to the people who believe in you from the get-go. You want to get investment from someone who is also really excited about what you are doing. Try to ignore the noise, but use the meetings as a way to refine your pitch and your messaging. I think we learned a lot about how we thought about our vision and how we frame our story through our fundraising process.