Monday, April 1, 2013
How Rexter Is Turning Connections Into Business, with Andy Wilson
Story by Benjamin F. Kuo
In the age of social networking, everyone has hundreds--even thousands--of connections online. But, to a business person, those connections and network are only good as the real life relationships they create. That's the idea behind Rexter (www.rexter.com), which recently raised seed funding to ramp up its software to put "LinkedIn on steroids". We spoke with CEO and founder Andy Wilson about how Rexter is looking to help business professionals further develop their relationships
What exactly is Rexter?
Andy Wilson: The core premise, is that the power of relationships as it relates to business success is overwhelming and critical. We are providing effective rules and a system for professionals who want to manage their relationships well. If you look at the success of something like LinkedIn, which has been one of the best performing IPOs, you can see how important this is. The challenge is that connections are not necessarily relationships, and relationships--not connections-- are what really matter. The question is, how do you put LinkedIn on steroids, and translate those valuable connections into things that matter? The thesis of Rexter, is that essentially, we're helping you to developer your network and turn those into relationships that drive success. We think if we do that well, we'll create value, and create a big, successful company.
What's different from Rexter from the many CRM tools already out there?
Andy Wilson: We fill what I call the relationship management chasm, the gap between contacts and what has classically been done in Salesforce automation and opportunity management. There is so much that involves building trust and rapport, which is a precondition to making things happen. One flavor of those things is selling something, but you can also imagine the relationship building required to hire someone onto your team, to raise financing, and for business development partnerships. There are a bunch of partnerships which are not explicitly selling something, which isn't covered by current CRM systems. That's something we're trying to capture.
We've had in-depth interviews with several hundred people where relationship management matters. People who are producers in commercial real estate, people in wealth management, people running insurance brokerages. As we talk to them, and learn how they manage their network, they say two things. One, is in most cases, they're using something like Outlook or a very crude flagging system to figure out where they are with people and what they need to do next. The other thing, is they're trying to marry this with a personal call sheet or list of people they need to reach out to.
That might be in Evernote, in Excel, in a note in an Outlook file. This call sheet concept is how they keep track of who they would like to be talking to, who is the most critical, and how to engage their network to move their agenda along. One of the key premises is that we are providing them the intelligence and personal data for their call sheets. Most people create their list using their intuition. What we do, is we instrument that through analytics. The people we've talked to, the most important thing in their lives is creating engaging relationships, to get things done. They've been doing that through this list, which they've built through memory and intuition. Our vision, is to make that systematic, and use big data and analytics to guide people on who needs to be on that list. So, point one, we create that call sheet. Point two, is we are using analytics and measurement to keep track of that, and recommend, dynamically, how to tune that call sheet.
How does that work?
Andy Wilson: When we talked to each producer and built their call sheet, and how people made it onto their call sheet, they made it for one of two reasons. One, is they'd engaged a sub list of people related to a very specific goal or projects. For example, a financing, signing a renewal, recruiting someone, or getting a deal done. The project lens determine the people they'd like to engage. The second group of names they composed, were strategic. Relationships building. For example, people you need to know who are successful, and you don't have a relationship with today but would like to.
We're building this all around big data. You might be familiar with software like ACT or Goldmine, but what's interesting about those systems, is they've not fallen by the wayside. They were certainly successful a decade ago. But, the reason they're no longer used, is the networks have become so large, and those systems required so much data entry--entering things like phone calls, when you met with someone, when you emailed them, and so on--it just didn't sacle. Those systems have literally fallen from the wayside, and now people are just using ad-hoc systems of list marking and organizing things in Outlook.
It looks like you have some notable advisors helping you with this?
Andy Wilson: When we started understanding and gathering this data, we realized that we probably needed additional skills, beyond our own core software development skills, who could think about relationship management systems, understand how to digest the data, and what it all means. Those are people like Galen Buckwalter, who you probably knjow is the Chief Scientific Officer of eHarmony. He's helped us put together the psychographic scoring for relationships. We also started looking at how statistics apply and how to evolve our model to learn over time, which is why we have people like Yaser Abu-Mostafa from the Learning Systems Group at Caltech. They were fascinated by our ability to take a quantitative set of data, and start applying their tools and techniques to solve problems that have never been solved before.
What was the biggest hurdle to getting this to all work?
Andy Wilson: (Laughts) Where should I start? I think that most people have come to the conclusion that relationship really matter. There is a lot of activity on connecting and building your network. The next, logical step, to make your network more valuable, is building relationships. The hard part of that, is to translate that to what people do, and how they do it. When you ask people, they usually can't articulate it. They have a set of practices that they can't immediately describe, and don't really know what they are. It takes a lot of observation, analysis, and research around trying to figure out what that is. If you're trying to build software around a behavior, and your user's can't explicitly describe what that behavior is, it's a bit challenging. So the number one challenge was distilling those behaviors, and capturing it in software. Then, trying to simplify that in a way that was easy and intuitive. It's easy to make a list, but the problem with making a list, is it's dynamic, and you're relying on your memory and intuition. We've created a clever version of list making which is based on analytics, and helps you to better spend your time on an outbound basis. That does require some amount of user input to make the analytics start, and we're balancing the need of the user for cues versus creating that intelligence. We have to make sure the information you get from a user is easy to provide, and makes sense, and makes the system smarter. We've made good progress, but it's an iterative process.