Growing an AI-consulting firm to over $1.2M ARR - Hiring, Sales, AI Secrets Revealed | Abhishek Agarwalla 

Covid-19 pushed businesses to embrace digital transformation. Businesses are buckling under AI's pressure now. Only 35% of companies now use AI, while 42% are looking into it for potential future use. Gartner predicts that by 2027, the worldwide market for artificial intelligence will be worth $266.92 billion. Over 10 million voice assistants were used in the United States by 2020.

It's no surprise that artificial intelligence consulting services are on the rise. But how can you speed up the expansion of your AI consultancy? Abhishek Agarwalla is going to tell you about his experience creating Aidetic. 

Our CEO Rohan interviewed the founder of Aidetic, Abhishek. Click for the full interview here

Say, Hi to Abhishek!

Abhishek graduated from IIT-Dhanbad. He has significant work experience as a Data Scientist, focusing on Natural Language Processing (NLP), Computer Vision, and Deep Learning to address business issues. Pharma, BFSI (Banking, Financial Services, and Insurance), Retail, Media, and Sports are a few areas where he has effectively used AI solutions.

When working with different SaaS and Tech businesses, he observed a significant problem. He felt the need to solve the widespread problem of companies wasting money on artificial intelligence initiatives that don't pan out. That's how the idea of Aidetic was born.

Aidetic

More about Aidetic!

Aidietic aims to partner with cutting-edge AI/ML (Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning), Cloud Computing, and Digital Transformation companies and businesses. American and European corporations from a wide variety of intriguing sectors make up their clientele. They serve industries like retail, financial services, media, entertainment, sports, and enterprise software, in general. Their goal is to speed up innovation across numerous industries by using their knowledge and offering their customers novel approaches.

One of their proud creations is a voice assistant that can carry on natural-sounding chats. In response to difficulties in sifting through many applications, the voice assistant was first created to help with recruiting. The voice assistant was also supposed to be used for customer support to improve consumer interactions by simulating human discussions as closely as possible within specific parameters.

Building a recommendation engine for online retailers is another ongoing endeavor. This plug-and-play engine aims to improve the user experience and increase revenue by making intelligent product suggestions on websites. The person says they integrated the recommendation engine into an app-based digital service for a large Indian corporation that generates billions in annual sales.

They collaborated with Tata Steel leveraging their expertise in sports analytics, Braille recognition, video analytics, and quality control systems.

Agency’s Sales Management: Abhishek’s 3-layer sales technique 

According to Abhishek, any agency’s sales management goes through three layers. 

Bottom

At the very bottom is the domain of actual execution, where people like programmers and marketers do their jobs. Getting things done is the goal of this level, which includes coding, content creation, and sales outreach.

Middle 

Next, at the tactical level, you'll supervise the workers who will really carry out your plans. At this stage, you'll steer the team in the right direction, allocate resources effectively, and ensure everyone's efforts contribute to the bigger picture. This is analogous to a programmer's project manager, who is responsible for keeping track of tasks, ensuring they are completed on time, and changing the schedule as necessary.

Top 

The strategic level is the top layer, and a strategic leader heads it. The management layer is accountable for implementing strategic and operational plans. The strategic leader is responsible for establishing the organization's KPIs and OKRs and providing direction to the middle management level. For example, the year's end revenue goal can be a million dollars. While the strategic leader monitors progress and provides direction as needed, the middle management concentrates on the specifics and ensures the plans are executed.

The responsibilities that fall under Abhishek's purview within the organization have grown over time. At first, his role was restricted to the execution phase, with little to no input into the tactical or strategic steps. His responsibilities, however, have expanded with time to include more strategic and tactical decisions. 

Abhishek wants to ensure he doesn't become a leader who makes judgments based on abstract theory but isn't in touch with the realities of implementation. He actively participates in sales closing. He deftly plies the waters between the strategic and tactical, focusing his efforts where they are most needed.

Aidetic

How did he hire for the agency’s middle management layer?

Why is it difficult?

There are many reasons it is challenging to find out potential employees for the management layer:

Lack of potential candidates 

People at the middle management level need technical knowledge, Leadership, and team management skills. It is challenging to find applicants with these attributes since a small number of people qualify.

The Battle for Talent 

Positions at the middle management level are highly sought after because of their significance to the organization's performance. Due to the demand for skilled employees, employers sometimes have difficulty attracting and retaining people up to the task.

The gap between front-line employees and upper management

Changing from an individual contributor job to one in middle management calls for new abilities. Unfortunately, not all employees are cut out to be leaders or managers. It takes blood and sweat to find and prepare stuff for positions in middle management.

Factors for recruiting internally vs. externally 

Choosing between internal promotions and external hires is a common dilemma for businesses when filling middle management roles. Though it might enhance morale and staff retention, promoting from the inside can also reduce the number of qualified applicants. On the other hand, while recruiting from the outside might bring in new ideas, it may take more time to get everyone up to speed.

Strategic goals and cultural fit 

A company's strategic goals can only be translated into executable strategies and team alignment if competent middle managers are in place. Finding job candidates who fit the company's values, culture, and technical requirements becomes challenging.

How they hire for their agency?

There was a lack of strategic direction in the early phases of Aidetic growth since there was no middle management layer. There was a strong emphasis on getting things done on the tactical level, with less attention paid to the company's long-term objectives. The need for a management layer in the middle was recognized, and steps were taken to fill it.

They constructed the layer of management in the middle in two stages. First, internal promotions were introduced to give employees who had outgrown their IC positions a chance to advance within the company. These workers are now in managerial roles overseeing projects in operations and development. The organization recognized the employees' growth and potential by promoting them from within, which helped to keep the best employees from leaving.

At the same time, Abhishek and his co-founders reworked their hiring practices to bring in new blood for the operational layer. If fresh hires were made for IC posts, existing workers might be considered for promotion to middle management positions. Most of the sales and marketing staff were brought in from the outside. The search was narrowed to those who have held managerial positions for a reasonable time (say, five to ten years). These people have the required knowledge without being too distant from day-to-day operations, making them perfect for positions in middle management.

Aideitic's strategy hinged mainly on its promise to provide employees with a share of its future success. ICs were paid based on performance at first, but after demonstrating their worth and staying with the firm for an extended period (often between 1.5 and 2 years), they were given a substantial amount of stock. The strategy's goals were to promote a feeling of belonging at work and to highlight the company's commitment to the future.

They are committed to developing its middle management, even if this is still a work in progress. The organization is aggressively constructing a unified structure that integrates execution, tactics, and strategy through promotions of internal talent, smart recruitment of external candidates, and an emphasis on equity remuneration. All employees benefit from this project since it will strengthen the company's overall orientation.

Employees = Equity holders: Why and how?

What is employee equity?

A non-monetary type of pay, employee equity, gives employees a stake in the business in exchange for their efforts. Performance shares, options, and restricted stocks can be given to employees, board members, consultants, and others. Employee equity could help recruit and maintain top talent. In addition, giving employees a cut of the company's profits might incentivize them to contribute more to the business's overall success.

The vesting period associated with employee equity can sometimes make up for a reduced base wage. Employees have a nonforfeitable right to their stock or asset, known as the vesting period, once a certain time has passed. The amount of reserved shares from which a company can issue restricted stock options is known as the "equity pool," which is typically set by the company's founders.

Different types of employee equity

Common types of employee equity include the following:

Employee stock option

Employee stock options are popular, where equity is often distributed through an ESOP. Vesting refers to the gradual release of the value of a stock or stock option award to the recipient throughout their employment. When the conditions are met, the employee can purchase the shares at the exercise price.

Restricted stock

Executives and board members are often recipients of this form of employee equity. These shares may be subject to conditions such as a vesting period or specific performance levels. Typical uses include executive remuneration, mergers, and ownership changes of affiliated businesses. In most cases, a departing executive will forfeit their entitlement to these shares.

Restricted stock units

RSUs, or restricted stock units, are an employer's agreement to provide an employee with certain stock shares in the future. After the vesting period, employees will be eligible to receive these shares if they meet the necessary conditions. After an employee has worked with the company for this time, they are considered a stakeholder in the plan. Founders are moving toward this kind of stock distribution because of the tax benefits.

Virtual Stock

Virtual stocks are a form of delayed compensation that companies utilize to reward employees in the long run. This is a viable workaround if a company or employee wants to avoid the tax and paperwork associated with providing ownership, but the stock does not exist. The company is not currently providing the worker with genuine stock options. The amount of the employee's portion payment is determined instead by the number of shares in the firm. This does not make the worker a legal proprietor

What's in it for the company?

With employee equity, employees have a stake in the company's success. Perhaps even more so than monetary compensation, employee ownership can inspire a commitment to excellence. An employee's stock can rise if they contribute to the company's performance, boosting its profitability. A company can improve employee retention by offering stock with vesting periods.

Offering stock options to employees is another way to get top talent to join a firm. The organization could enable these specialists to earn more by linking their compensation to the company's success instead of just a wage. Their skills and drive will help the company, but they will also help themselves.

Aidetic’s Approach

There are four co-founders in total in Aideitic, and they have all agreed to share equally in the company's stock. The company's technical advisors and referral partners also have ownership stakes in the company alongside the co-founders. Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) pools get a share of the equity and then distribute it to workers.

Unlike financial contributions, employees are not required to make any monetary payments in return for their equity. Instead, the ownership is a bet on their continued success as an employee of the firm. This gives employees a stake in the company's success and aligns their interests with its long-term ambitions.

Co-founders, advisors, referral partners, and workers are all members of the shared ownership structure since they get stock. This method promotes cooperation, inspires loyalty, and incentivizes everyone to contribute to the business's success.

How does Aidetic hire salespeople?

Agency owners are constantly looking for methods to increase revenue, including reducing the cost of hiring talented people. Abhishek is no different. When paying top dollar for highly experienced personnel is impossible, they use various methods to attract and retain talent.

They usually take on someone with less than five years of experience for jobs like list-making, lead-gathering, and outreach. They offer a playbook and supporting paperwork to help teach this person the necessary skills. They learn to excel in these areas in only a few short months.

The agency also recruits someone with seven years of experience organizing discovery meetings, driving prospects through the sales funnel, generating proposals, and closing transactions. This person serves as an intermediary between the top management and the person in charge of developing new leads. They bring advisory expertise and are accountable for negotiations being concluded.

Aidetic interviews potential candidates between 10 and 12 before deciding who would fill the position. Consistency is highly valued during the choosing process. The ideal applicant will show a deep dedication to the sales process and be resilient in the face of setbacks. The capacity to accept setbacks with dignity and move on to new opportunities is crucial.

The agency has started using different sales strategies after learning from industry leaders. They stress the need for framing, product assurance, and avoiding leads without purchasing power or pressing demands. They've learnt from their failures and are now laser-focused on developing a solid body of work comprised of relevant case studies and expanding their knowledge in a particular field. By taking this action, the organization will be better able to save time and accomplish its goals.

The agency guarantees a constant flow of prospects by implementing the proper channels, forming strategic alliances, and operating an efficient marketing engine. They realize that expanding their network and demonstrating their knowledge can open up new doors of opportunity. With these methods in place, the agency may develop a strong sales procedure and staff, increasing their chances of success.

Referrals or Outbound: What’s working for Aidetic?

The outbound sales team is accountable for over 50% of ALC's total income. However, this figure might be anywhere from 40% to 50%, depending on the circumstances. Referrals 30-35%, and the rest 15 to 20% is inbound.

The success rate drops to about 10% to 15% when only cold outbound prospects (i.e., those with no prior relationship) are considered.

Channel Partner 

Aidetic uses various channel agreements to increase its sales potential. Companies that function as go-betweens, generating leads and supporting sales but handing off the actual work to the channel partner in question are one form of the channel partner. These businesses find and secure clients independently and refer them to the agency for further employment. In exchange, they get paid a percentage of the client's income. Since the agency works directly with the customer and maintains the connection, this approach is not subcontracting.

Managed service providers are another form of agency channel partner involved in sales. These businesses provide full lead-generating and sales services on the agency's behalf. In most cases, the partnership will entail a retainer fee and a revenue-sharing agreement so that both parties may benefit from the sales created by the relationship.

They are also interested in forming strategic alliances with accelerators and venture capital funds. They can gather information about the startups that have received funding and need development resources to create a minimal viable product (MVP) or move from MVP to the beta stages. These new businesses can access the agency's development skills by forming a partnership with it. Both of them stand to gain from this sort of channel cooperation.

Content Marketing + SEO

Abhishek understands the value of utilizing many sales strategies rather than just one. When the agency owner's network could no longer provide significant revenue, it began looking into channel partnerships. They also put money into content marketing and search engine optimization (SEO) to boost their online visibility and lead generation. In addition to upselling methods with current clients, the firm also actively pursued recommendations from pleased consumers. The agency has maintained growth and increased its client base because of its diversified strategy, which employs several channels and techniques.

Abhishek’s DM strategy

Abhishek uses their connections to expand the scope of their outreach efforts. Alums from the same university, past coworkers from the same or a different company, or even second-degree connections on LinkedIn, all count. These people may not know Abhishek directly, but they have something in common, such as a shared educational background or professional ties.

Since these potential leads did not come to the agency directly, Abhishek views network-based marketing as an outbound sales tactic. He hopes to boost the chances of converting network-based prospects into clients by capitalizing on shared experiences and relationships.

What is Abhishek’s goal with the company?

Whether to concentrate on developing a product or growing the agency to become a $100 million corporation is a difficult choice for Abhishek. The agency's current annual revenue is between $1,000,000 and $1,200,000. The services-based business is a significant asset he does not want to give up since it represents a lot of work and a steady income stream.

The primary objective is not to hit $100 million in sales, but he does want to keep the services company in the seven figures. This ensures steady development and stability. Abhishek intends to introduce their product as part of a larger strategy to diversify the company's income streams. They see the advantages of a product-based company strategy over the services industry, where expansion into new projects necessitates hiring more employees. 

They hope to increase the service revenue to $10 million during the next five years. The resulting structure will be ideal for future growth. Again, he is building on its product offers as a potential growth strategy.

The strategic goal of Abhishek is to strike a balance between expanding the services company and funding new product creation. He wants to propel the agency ahead in the future years by achieving sustainable revenue growth, improving scalability, and capitalizing on the benefits of both business models.

What did Abhishek think about ChatGPT initially?

Abhishek discovered that ChatGPT excelled at coding activities such as creating Python algorithms, solving complicated issues, and commenting on and explaining those solutions. ChatGPT impressed them with its speed and efficiency in completing programming jobs that would have taken a human programmer far longer.

He also mentioned that ChatGPT is probabilistic, pointing out that while it does exceptionally well on probabilistic tasks, it may have trouble with deterministic inquiries with definitive responses. 

He used ChatGPT to create an automatic cold email sequence writer to simplify email marketing for their clients. Multiple email scripts were written once the user inputted relevant information, such as the intended audience and the number of emails in the series. This allowed marketers who lacked formal training in cold emailing to benefit from the model's expertise and rapidly generate effective email sequences.

Abhishek believes that while ChatGPT can't replace highly skilled digital marketing professionals, it can help fill in the gaps in their knowledge and quickly boost their abilities and production. 

Need Help with AI integration?

Abhishek is already helping the big names in the industry to leverage AI. But it’s never too late to maximize your business ROI with AI. If you want tobuild an AI solution, Ionio can help you with this.

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Behind the Blog 👀
Moumita Roy
Writer

Moumita Roy is a Content writer & has been working in SaaS and AI industry for the last 3 years. When she is not at her computer, you can find her hiking in the mountains, binge-reading fiction, or cuddling up with her fur baby. She shares her content marketing journey on LinkedIn.

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