Sharel Omer has been in the tech industry for nearly 20 years, spending half of that time in entrepreneurial start-ups. He has worked in enterprise and small businesses and has held a variety of roles, from developer to marketing to product management. He is now the CEO and co-founder of Affogata, a platform which gathers real-time customer-reaction data from anywhere on the open web, enabling companies to better stay in touch with their user bases.
You’ve worn a lot of different hats during your hi-tech tenure. You must have accumulated a lot of general experience. What can you say about the value of that experience?
“The main reasons that start-ups fail are the dynamics between founders, the ability to execute, and maybe the market isn’t big enough, so they can’t raise funds. When you have more experience, you have more ways to manage those risks. General experience is about knowing what’s important and what’s not, how to prioritize things, understanding how to understand different departments. That goes a long way in reducing the risks for a successful start-up.”
Your current venture seems to be doing well. What was the founding philosophy behind Affogata’s inception?
“These days there are a lot of customers talking about brands. Those customer interactions don’t just sit in one place being analyzed and providing insights so that organizations can make decisions. That’s the dream of Affogata. We take a lot of texts of customers talking about an organization, and through AI we analyze it, make it quantitative and measurable, and we share it with them so that different departments can act on it to reduce churn and make better decisions in general.”
So artificial intelligence is a big part of the mix. When presenting insights to companies, what level of human interaction is needed in order to translate what your AI finds into actionable information?
“Our goal is to have 100% technology doing the translation, because we’re working on real-time data that could dramatically affect the business. If suddenly a new feature is live and people aren’t engaging with it or it has issues, we want to service it as quickly as possible.”
In a general start-up environment, what is the weight of customer feedback? Just how important could it be?
“There are three partners to a successful start-up: yourself, your team, and the customers. Everyone should have an equal role, because you don’t have all the answers. You may have an idea about something, but you need to balance it with your team and with the market, otherwise you’re not really making a true product-market fit. In that sense, you really need to have less ego, and really understand the balance between what the customer says they need and what you think they need.”
Something you hear in the content creation world a lot is that you should ‘never read the comments.’ What you’re suggesting is that you either should read them, or have an AI analysis platform read them for you.