NOAH London Conference 2019 | A fireside chat with Sachin Dev Duggal, CEO & Co-Founder of Builder.ai
Full interview video coming soon.

Builder helps enterprises and startups create, scale and manage all types of software through three products: BuilderStudio, BuilderCloud and BuilderCloud. The company aims to make software as ‘easy as ordering pizza’ as mentioned in it’s tagline on their website. Its client base includes brands like BBC, Virgin Unite and NBC Universal.

As CEO of Builder, Sachin Dev Duggal leads a global team that is changing how software is built and managed. Sachin has been an entrepreneur since age 15. He took his last company Nivio, an early cloud startup, to $100M in value before exiting. His accomplishments have been widely recognized: MIT Under 35 Indian Innovator of the Year, Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Finalist, and the BBC Young Asian Achiever of the Year. Sachin also made history as one of the youngest attendees at the World Economic Forum in Davos. He holds a degree in B.Eng from Imperial College London and a degree in Entrepreneurial Master’s Program from MIT.

Priscilla Tenggara: Thanks for joining us today at NOAH London! Today we’re here with Sachin Dev Duggal, the CEO and Co-Founder Of Builder.ai. How are you doing today?

Sachin Dev Duggal: Good, it’s a nice sunny morning in London so that’s always good.

Priscilla Tenggara: I know it’s not your first time at the Conference, what are you most looking forward to this year?

Sachin Dev Duggal: It’s always nice to reconnect with friends that you meet at NOAH; we’ve also got a couple of deal signing as well, so I’m looking forward to that. 

Priscilla Tenggara: At the current stage of the company, what’s your biggest focus right now and what will your focus be in two years?

Sachin Dev Duggal: So our biggest focus here is broken down to three pieces.

One is top of the funnel growth, so revenue and customer acquisition. That could be like NOAH partnerships, that’s one of the things we’re signing today. 

The second is ongoing product development. For example today, at the end of my presentation, I shared a slide asking “what if you could build your idea in ten minutes?” So the ease and product experience of using Build.ai is key.

Third is capital, NOAH is a great place for that, especially to see how capital is growing, what we will need and how markets are changing. 

Priscilla Tenggara: Yeah definitely, and I know you’ve recently rebranded from Engineering.ai to Builder.ai. What have you learned throughout the rebranding process and what unexpected challenges came up?

Sachin Dev Duggal: So the rebrand was a long time coming. We used to be Engineering.ai and the products were named Builder and Cloud Ops – all very confusing, so it was hard to standardize any sort of branding and messaging. Eventually, we had to make a difficult call in March and simplify, or else we’d try to boil the ocean by building multiple brands at the same time. 

Of course it was very emotionally painful to do that because we had an attachment to all of them – sort of like your three children, but I think the minute we did it, it’s allowed us to be more singular and streamline in approach. 

It’s one of those times where less is more.

Priscilla Tenggara: Right and in the marketing process, what has been the most effective strategies for those out there trying to rebrand and will go through something similar?

Sachin Dev Duggal: So our rebrand took a few weeks in execution; but the actual thinking process took 4 months, where we built version six before even shipping out version one. We did the whole brand book, like why we’re doing it and so on.

But we also started to dig even deeper, who’s the target audience? How can we reflect this audience in a diagram? What is the value proposition for each audience? What’s the right way for segmenting for us?

One of the things that came out of the discussion is that our customers are typically straddling between the fear of irrelevance and the fear of failure. And the ability for us to show that in the brand is key because we understand that our customers oscillate in their journey and there’s this line of fear they just don’t cross. 

So I think those key learnings shaped more than the brand but also our strategy in the market.

Priscilla Tenggara: Definitely, and speaking of strategy, I know you’ve grown intensively, especially these last two years. You’ve doubled your revenue and you’ve also quadrupled your user base – congratulations on that. What’s been the one key thing that’s led to this achievement?

Sachin Dev Duggal: I think it’s never one, but I’d say it’s the hustle. As a company that bootstrap for a very long time, it’s been critical for us to not lose eyes on the objective. 

That’s also tough when you’re adding people. We added 130 people in the last six months, which was about 2.2 times the size we were prior to the six months. Scaling becomes difficult if you’re not focused on the target and making sure things are moving on.

Priscilla Tenggara: So as you’ve expanded and rapidly grown, Builder’s AI capabilities have been questioned by a few people out there. For the naysayers, is there anything you’d like to clarify?

Sachin Dev Duggal: Firstly, AI doesn’t mean another Indian, which is a common misconception that we unfortunately had to deal with over the summer. 

And I say a couple things, have you ever had RedBull? 

Priscilla Tenggara: Yes.

Sachin Dev Duggal: Did you grow wings?

Priscilla Tenggara: Haha no.

Sachin Dev Duggal: Do you own a pair of Nike trainers?

Priscilla Tenggara: Yes.

Sachin Dev Duggal: Can you just do it?

Priscilla Tenggara: Not all the time.

Sachin Dev Duggal: The point is how you translate a company’s mission and where it is today, to the company’s aspirations are two very different things. It’s very unfortunate that being in tech is like being in industries that are heavily regulated. I tell my friends, being in tech is almost like being in the cigarette business. You have a walking target for anything you might present. 

In more direct terms, we’ve always used the word “human assisted AI.” We’ve always been transparent. And if people choose to miss the word “human” in front of the  “assisted”, then there’s not a lot we can help. 

We have an ever-growing intelligence system team. We actually just hired a VP of Intelligence over the summer. But these are not the things we want to expose. Our teams are here to get on with work and not be dragged into whatever is in the public foray.

And all I say to folks is that there’s always a reason why people write things. And it’s never the reason they perceive it to be. And hey, we’re still here and we’re still growing and we have more customers. In fact, we have more customers than when the articles came out and when people wrote what they did.

With every innovation we’ve seen, people will doubt and people will question. And that’s just the fate of our company.

Priscilla Tenggara: Thank you for sharing that. I’m sure it was very hard on your team and I really appreciate this openness. 

And speaking of growth, for entrepreneurs out there looking to raise funds, especially at NOAH today, what advice do you have for those looking for investors? How did you choose the right investors? What has your experience taught you during the process?

Sachin Dev Duggal: Our investors are amazing. And I know everybody says that. Two of them sit on our board. And they’re as close as family and that’s what you look for. 

I know some say you need this and that, and it’s all great. But it’s a little like what I tell those who we hire, your facade and background only gets you to the door; your legacy gets built here.

And you can similarly apply that to your investment partners. You want folks you can have honest conversations with, disagree with and can hold you to a higher order. And when times are difficult, which there will be , they’ll also be on your side. 

Obviously, think about questions like can they fund your next round? Do they understand the sector? Can they make introductions? Those are givens, but when you’re finding a partner, it’s also what you want to gain out of it. 

I think we have to remember it’s a dating game. If one person only wants to date the other, then it’s never going to happen properly.

Priscilla Tenggara: Well said, thank you. Lastly, what are you most excited for at NOAH and how do you think the conference will bring value to your business and network this year?

Sachin Dev Duggal: NOAH’s been great. Every time we’re here, we meet fantastic people. We met folks in Berlin, who we are also signing a deal with today. 

It’s helpful to reconnect with our investment team and the Conference is also an integral part of London’s tech scene. 

Priscilla Tenggara: Definitely, well thank you so much for joining us this year and we’re really excited to hear more during your presentation. Thanks!