Every business needs solid sales to grow and profit. CEO of Korean startup VODA BI JinKook Lee wanted to develop a service that could make the ‘sales calls’ more reliant and sales-worthy. With experience of over 20 years in various corporates in the sales area, Lee had gathered enough knowledge to execute his dream of entrepreneurship formally.
Along with a capable engineer founder, Lee established VODA BI, a unique sales call service app that can be used on smartphones to analyze sales call data. VODA BI is currently under beta service and likely to be launched in January 2021.
JinKook Lee believes it will be a great product, especially in COVID-19 outbreak times, when most sales calls are executed using mobile phones. Lee talked to koreatechdesk.com about VODA BI and how the product will revolutionize the sales and marketing world.
1. Please tell me about your background and what motivated you to get started with your company?
I have been working in overseas and sales area over 20 years, starting from Hyundai Corporation, Interpark, Inwootech, Cisco Systems, MarketStar, and JKL Company. Among these companies, JKL Company does Inside Sales service for its clients, which is contacting potential customers via phone call, email, and other online channels.
While I coached sales reps in 2016, I found some patterns of questions and answers between sales and potential customers, thinking that if there were an automatic system to show the conversation patterns, it would be much help for increasing sales probability and productivity. To be fortunate, I could build a previous version of ‘VODA BI’ funded by the government, have formed some good relationships, and reached founding a new entity, VODABI in January 2020.
2. What is your current main product, and can you share any previous product pivot story to the current product?
Our main service, ‘VODA BI’ is a mobile call conversation analysis app service focusing on sales. We don’t show every letter in conversation. Instead, because our service is concentrating on business, we summarize long calls by our patented framework and suggest the next sales call question for enhancing sales probability.
Working in sales for 20 years, I met many clients. What they commonly needed in sales conversation was the ‘budget, authority, needs, timeline.’ I have also considered these four essential keywords to summarize sales conversations in common when making phone calls to customers in my sales career. Based on these four keywords, I thought that to create a service such as an individual secretary of a salesperson who organizes and analyzes the sales calls had business value enough.
So I added two things here, competition and (customer’s) questions, and developed a ‘BANTCQ’ framework. This framework became our main business point. In 2018, I proposed building the ‘Voice recognition-based Sales conversation analysis system at Government funding contest rounds and awarded $ 450,000 funds. It was for a desk phone but I felt a much bigger need for mobile phone talks. Luckily, I met ETRI (Government Institute for ICT) at Korea Electronics Fair 2019, and they showed many interests in the VODA BI system. After meetings with ETRI and ETRI Holdings (Investment business company, child of ETRI), we made a decision to make a new entity, VODABI for the Application service of Analyzing Sales Conversation on Mobile.
3. What is the market opportunity for your product?
With the increase in usage of smartphones and COVID 19, salesmen are more dependent on mobile sales calls. Especially in Korea, the B2B sales market that we target as a major segment hasn’t been developed enough yet. Our VODA BI service is targeting the sales coaching S/W market. In the global market, the sales coaching S/W market is expected to be about 7.6 billion dollars in 2024.
Till now, there was no such service as VODA BI, which focuses on sales mobile phone call analysis services, so the problems from the unspecified market were not defined yet. As people experience the service through the beta test, people are surprised. After VODA BI enters the real world, like an iPhone or a car, people will never be able to return to the world before it.
4. What’s your business model, and how have you grown your revenue? What strategy worked best?
We haven’t launched our ‘paid’ service yet, so we don’t have any revenues. But we will grow with two main versions; premium for SOHO and individual salesperson, business version for corporate users. Premium users pay $10 per month, and business users pay $20 per month.
5. Please tell me more about your founding team.
Donghyuk(CTO) and I founded VODABI together. He is one of my alumni, and he is working as a CTO and vice president now. Donghyuk and I got to know each other through my alumnus. He is an angel investor. After listening to my business idea, he introduced Donghyuk to me. I needed the help of an engineer because I was a sales guy. Because Donghyuk majored in data analysis, my alumnus thought that Donghyuk would be a big help for me. Donghyuk and I agreed on VODA BI’s business vision and prepared for 3 months. As a result, we set up VODABI Inc. in January this year. ETRI and ETRI Holdings has been involved and helped the foundation.
6. How much money have you raised in total so far? When was the recent funding round?
We got $ 90,000 from ETRI Holdings, Aug. 2020. Also, quite recently, we’re selected for the TIPS (Tech Incubator Program for Startup Korea) program and will receive $450,000 in support for two years.
7. What are the biggest challenges and obstacles that you have faced in the process of fund-raising? If you had to start over, what would you do differently?
At this moment, most challenging words from investors in fundraising are “Business model looks good but need to check out the users, ‘how many and what feedbacks’”. We’re inviting the users in our 1st and 2nd beta service from October. 100 users participated in the first beta test, and 1,000 people will participate in the second beta test in November.
Because VODABI was founded in January this year and runs so fast, I believe the challenge from investors above is rational. We’re doing best to increase the users and show the expected outcomes.
8. What are your milestones for the next round? And what are your goals for the future?
For the next round, we will expand our service to foreign languages, including English. To develop a language engine for STT(speech-to-text), and to do customized marketing by each country, investment attraction should be made. As the English service is scheduled for 2021, other foreign language services will be prepared from late 2021.
9. How have you attracted users, and with what strategy have you grown your company from the start to now?
Because our business model is divided into personal and business users, for the first beta test in October 2020, we gathered 100 individual salesmen. Our VODA BI service is focusing on B2B users as a major territory, but we can communicate with these 100 individual users easier than business users. So, prior to targeting business users, individual users’ opinions will be actively accepted to improve our services. Actually, their opinions were helpful for our service improvement until now.
We will expand our services with our partner companies as early customers. Before I launch this company, I was working at the B2B sales part. From my ten-year career in JKL company, I formed a partnership with well-known companies; Microsoft, CISCO Korea, Oracle, SAP, SK, LG U+, etc. These companies will join for our second beta test in November 2020. They would be our business users, which is our main service.
10. What do most startups get wrong about marketing in general?
The common mistakes that startups make seem to be losing their customers’ perspective by falling into their new products and services’ strengths. We also try not to make this mistake. Especially when it comes to marketing, I want to look from the users’ point of view.
11. How do you plan to expand globally?
After launching domestic services early next year, we will try to enter North America and Asia Pacific countries. To advance into North America, we contact sales partners such as Salesforce, Citrix, Pulley Ascent, and BNI. These companies will join us as our users. In addition, we will work with local STT companies in each country for localization in a short time.
12. How do you handle this COVID-19 outbreak situation for your company’s survival in the future?
COVID-19 is causing most companies to telecommute. In particular, in the case of sales, it was changed to non-face-to-face sales through phone calls. This is expected to bring together a large number of users immediately from January 2021, when we will launch our service in Korea. I think COVID-19 could be an opportunity for us to create early customers.
13. What’s the best advice you’ve ever received? And what advice do you have for someone who is interested in doing similar things like yours or in a similar direction?
Ten years of work at JKL company taught me that ‘business is a marathon.’ You shouldn’t be in joy just because things go a little well, and if you’re in despair just because things don’t go well, nothing becomes. “Leaders should be strong under any circumstances.”
14. What are the top-three books or movies (TV series) that changed your life and why?
- ‘Born of This Land(2009)’. This book is written by Hyundai Corporate honorary president, Jooyoung Jung. One of his famous works is, “Hey, have you tried it?” Instead of being discouraged by judging in advance without trying, I do work with perseverance.
- ‘Business Ethics(2009)’. This book helped me to see the big picture without being swayed by small things in my business.
- ‘Skin in the game(2018)’. It is a book that let me know what is important in life. It allowed me to have a view that I could see beyond work, not work itself.
14. How do you keep yourself motivated every day?
The first priority is my family. And the second is VODA BI itself. It’s a business that I started with great teammates based on my experiences in doing business for 10 years. I’m overwhelmed just by the fact that I’m with brilliant people because they trust and follow me. Also, feedback from beta testers is now a big help. The praises I hear from them are really great strength, and I want to try to give more help.
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