Securing and Selling AI | Growth Hacks for AI Tech Startups with Shiv Kumar, CRO of AIShield

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The breakthroughs in artificial intelligence (AI) have unlocked incredible potential for innovation and growth. Yet, as tech companies and startups integrate AI systems into their solutions and business models, they face many challenges. 

From adversarial threats that can distort AI-driven results to potential financial setbacks, threats to brand credibility, and the ever-looming risk of intellectual property breaches, the road to success is fraught with obstacles. It’s a dynamic landscape where the stakes are high, and the need for robust AI security solutions has never been more critical.

In this Fireside Chat, Martal Group’s very own Kris Davis and Shiv Kumar, the co-founder and CRO of AIShield, dive deep into the role of AI security and how AI tech startups can grow in a rapidly growing market.

In this interview, you’ll gain insight into:

  • The rise of generative AI and its role in cementing the need for AI security
  • How to strike the right balance between product and sales-led growth for AI products
  • Actionable advice for AI startups building a go-to-market strategy from a 30-year master of revenue growth

So, grab a cup of coffee and watch (or listen in) as Kris and Shiv walk us through the future of securing and selling AI products and solutions.

A Brief Introduction

For those unfamiliar, AIShield is a startup born out of the innovation powerhouse, Bosch. With a mission to “secure the AI systems of the world,” AIShield is at the forefront of AI security, ensuring that as AI adoption grows, the risks are mitigated.

Shiv Kumar: A Brief Bio

Shiv Kumar is an expert in revenue growth with over three decades of experience in sales and consultative sales for emerging technologies. His career has seen him at the forefront of large system integration organizations and innovative startups. A significant part of Shiv’s journey had been with Accenture Consulting, where he played a pivotal role at Accenture Ventures. 

With Accenture, Shiv was instrumental in identifying promising startups in the high-tech sector, fostering their growth, and orchestrating combined go-to-market strategies. 

As the co-founder and chief revenue officer of AIShield, Shiv’s expertise is now channeled into the realm of AI security, where he oversees sales, marketing, and strategic partnerships, ensuring AIShield’s position as a leader in the field.

From Bosch to AIShield: An Evolution

We are born out of Bosch,” Shiv explained. “In 2019-20, one of the bets taken by our CEO, Manoj, was on the security of AI systems.” After validating the initial idea and building the MVP (minimum viable product), AIShield realized the potential of their AI security product beyond Bosch’s internal use. This led to the official launch of AIShield as a startup in May 2022.

Their offerings encompass comprehensive vulnerability assessments, real-time threat-informed defenses, and seamless integrations with leading AI security platforms. Under Shiv’s leadership, AIShield is not only safeguarding AI/ML assets against adversarial threats but also championing the cause of AI security in the ever-evolving tech landscape.

The Growing Importance of AI Security

As Shiv rightly pointed out in the interview, the rise in AI adoption has escalated and compounded the associated risks.

As we transition from AI 2.0 to AI 3.0, the complexities and the potential threats multiply. It’s not just about innovation; it’s about securing that innovation for the future.” – Shiv Kumar

The journey from rudimentary rule-based AI (AI 1.0) to machine learning and deep learning applications (AI 2.0) and now to generative AI (AI 3.0) has seen an exponential increase in potential threats. 

Shiv warns, “Your AI application could be compromised, leading to loss of business reputation, revenue, and competitive advantage.”.

A Glimpse into the Future

The world of AI is vast and ever-evolving. From simple tools like ChatGPT to complex AI security systems like AIShield, the applications are diverse. As Shiv Kumar insightfully mentioned during his conversation with Kris, “What happened with generative AI… it has brought the focus for AI security and safety aspects all together.” This underscores the rapid advancements in AI and the corresponding need for robust security measures. As AI becomes more integrated into our daily lives, ensuring its security will be the key to harnessing its full potential without compromising safety.

Harnessing AI in Sales and Marketing

AIShield doesn’t just advocate for AI; they actively incorporate it into their operations. Shiv shares that they utilize AI-based tools in their sales and marketing, from email automation to content creation. Additionally, Shiv explains, “…we also have an AI component as part of our own product itself,” further solidifying the team’s commitment to the technology as a whole.

But it’s not just about leveraging AI tools. AIShield recognizes the importance of a human touch in B2B interactions. Shiv explains their strategy, which combines the best of product-led growth and sales-led growth. “It’s a very hybrid strategy that we have adopted, which has, in fact, worked for us, which is a combination of product-led growth as well as its sales-led growth,” Shiv states.

Striking the Right Balance: Sales-led vs. Product-led Growth in AI

The balance between sales-led and product-led growth is a delicate dance in AI. Kris and Shiv’s conversation sheds light on this intricate balance, highlighting the unique challenges and strategies employed by AIShield.

The AI Conundrum:

The Challenge: The modern digital marketer often blurs the lines between AI-generated content and human-crafted messages. As Kris aptly points out, many face a discernment challenge between AI-generated content and human-crafted messages.

The Solution: Shiv provides insight into this challenge, emphasizing the importance of a hybrid approach. He states: 

When we looked at AIShield and AI security, we understood very early that none of them individually is going to work with us because they don’t relate back to the point earlier. There needs to be a lot of education and awareness. And so it cannot be product-led growth, where you simply push a product and, you know, automate things around it and expect users to first use it and then buy it as well. And then it cannot be completely sales-led growth as well wherein you are reaching out, writing these emails, and then, you know, customizing them and then getting into long conversations from demos to further contextualization of their use case and go forward.” 

Shiv further elaborates on AIShield’s approach:

 “So, what we did was a smart balance, in this case, that uses the best of the technology that we have. So we have a mature product. So, some aspects are product-led growth, and some aspects are sales-led growth, and we are effectively doing, which also is an industry term now, which is product-led sales.

Combining the strengths of both product-led and sales-led growth allows AIShield to navigate the challenges posed by the evolving AI landscape effectively.

We’ve broken down the key elements that drive success for these two growth strategies below to give you a better understand of the difference between product and sales-led growth. 

Sales-led Growth in AI:

Human Touch: In the AI industry, the human element remains irreplaceable. Building trust, understanding client needs, and tailoring solutions require a human touch. 

Importance of Personalization: AI sales thrive on personalization. It’s not just about selling a product; it’s about understanding a potential client’s unique challenges and offering tailored AI solutions.

Building Relationships: Beyond the initial sale, nurturing long-term client relationships is paramount. Shiv mentions the importance of ongoing conversations, from demos to further contextualization of use cases, ensuring that the client’s evolving needs are consistently met.

Product-led Growth in AI:

Robust Product Team: Shiv emphasizes the strength of a robust product and technology team. “If you have a very strong product, technology, and research team,” Shiv notes, “it gives you a lot of benefits into sales conversions.

Educating the Market: For AI startups, it’s not just about selling; it’s about educating. Showcasing the product’s real-world value and potential impact is crucial for market penetration.

Iterative Development: Drawing from Shiv’s insights, it’s evident that feedback loops are essential. AI startups should be agile, taking user feedback and market responses into account to continually refine and enhance their product. This iterative approach ensures the product remains relevant and valuable to its users.

Strategies for AI Startups: Shiv’s Pearls of Wisdom

For budding AI startups, Shiv offers invaluable advice:

Go-To-Market Research: Validating the Product-Market Fit

Shiv underscores the importance of aligning with market demands, mentioning, “Initially, the focus should not be heavy on the revenue aspect but heavy on the user aspect, its validation aspects.” For AI startups, it’s pivotal to ensure the product not only stands out but also addresses genuine market needs before channeling efforts into revenue pursuits.

Feedback Loops: Embracing Flexibility in Sales Strategy

While emphasizing the fluidity required to succeed in the ever-evolving AI industry, Shiv states, “We did not just lock in on one strategy. We kept adapting as the market gave us feedback.” 

This highlights the importance of not just having a sales strategy but also the readiness to pivot based on real-time market feedback. For startups, it’s not just about setting a course but being agile enough to adjust the sails as they navigate the market’s unpredictable waters.

Customization is the Key to Customer Satisfaction

Shiv further goes on to explain why requests for customization should not be ignored:

[You] will look at it as customizations for the first part. But very soon, you will see that another customer is asking for it. And then you go back to your product team and tell them, ‘Hey, these are requirements that we are getting, and it will become a feature as well.’” 

This insight reveals the organic evolution of a product based on customer feedback. For startups, it’s not just about delivering a solution but molding it to fit the unique requirements of their clientele, which in turn can lead to broader applicability and appeal.

As we reflect on this Fireside Chat, it’s evident that the AI future is as much about securing and selling innovations as it is about creating them. Conversations like these serve as guiding lights, illuminating the path for both startups and tech giants in the intricate AI landscape. As we anticipate further breakthroughs, the lessons from Kris and Shiv highlight the essence of innovation: secure, adapt, and always stay attuned to the market’s pulse.

Thank you for joining us on this enlightening journey with Kris and Shiv. Stay tuned for more insights, stories, and pearls of wisdom in our upcoming Fireside Chats. 

If you would like to learn more about AIShield, please visit www.boschaishield.com/home.html, or read their full documentation and start your free trial at docs.boschaishield.com.

Kris: Hey, everyone, I’m here with Shiv Kumar. Shiva is the co-founder and chief revenue officer for AIShield, which is a startup of Bosch. I believe it was founded in 2020. Did I read my notes correctly? Is that correct?

Shiv: 2022.

Kris: I was okay, I was a couple of years off. I am switching up some numbers in my head here. But anyway, I’m here with Shiv. Shiv, It’s really good to finally get a chance to meet you face-to-face and get a chance to have you on here just for a little fireside chat. So just to kind of get started, if we could, I figured I’d turn it over to you to get a chance to kind of introduce yourself for all the listeners that are out there. That way, they understand who they’re kind of getting a chance to hear from today. So if you want to introduce yourself, and then we’ll dive into Bosch and then AIShield and stuff like that.

Shiv: So, first of all, thank you, Kris. Very happy to be here. I think it’s a great platform for somebody to speak on strategy, revenue, sales, AI, and cybersecurity altogether. Very happy to be here. So my introduction: Shiv here, and I’m the co-founder and chief revenue officer of AIShield. I take care of sales, marketing, and strategic partnerships at AIShield. We are an AI security startup, and I guess we’ll delve into it very soon. Now, overall, I have 30 years of experience in sales and consultative sales for emerging technologies. And I have worked on large system integration organizations, as well as startups. I was also part of Accenture Consulting for a majority of my time earlier, and I was specifically working at Accenture Ventures. So the job was again with startups over there, but a bit different. I was assigned the responsibility to specifically work in high tech industry vertical, and then identify startups on some core ideas into that particular domain, build the product together, and then execute a combined go-to-market strategy. So yeah, that’s about me.

Kris: I love it. I love it. And 30 years of experience, that’s some serious time put into the industry. Right, specifically, it sounds like around a lot of tech around a lot of startups, very AI-centric and AI-focused. And I know, maybe this is just me personally speaking, but I know that kind of like approaching things from a startup perspective to me is more fun. That challenge is a little bit more fun because you get to take something and literally mold it, you know, with maybe something that’s existing or something that’s already going on. It’s kind of just like saying, here’s the idea, you know, use it to whatever it’s it’s there for, but with a startup, you’re like, okay, what do you want done? What do you want to get done with this? What are our ideas, nothing’s off the table at this point. So I’m sure that you’ve had your fair share of those conversations throughout your years and whatnot. So awesome. Well, I appreciate you being here again, I’m excited to kind of dig into that just a little bit more here in just a few, but I do want to highlight Bosch in AIShield. Kind of starting with Bosch if you want to give like a quick rundown of who Bosch is and what Bosch does; pretty massive company worldwide. So, tell us a little bit about Bosch, Shiv.

Shiv: So, when you started and said that, that we started in 2020, you were not entirely wrong. So, we are born out of Bosch, and at Bosch, we have this practice of something called “taking innovation to test,” and in 2019 – 20, one of the bets taken by our CEO, Manoj, was on to the security of AI systems, and we get all the support necessary. So from the initial idea to its validation to building the first level of product, the MVP, that is what happened, and we did some use cases for internal boss businesses and mainly coming from the boss strategic fields. They were into automotive and manufacturing sector, but very soon, we understood that this particular product that we had at ETSI, which is on AI security, had huge potential outside, and that is when we approached our board leadership to officially venture out and go for external business. So that’s where last year was in 2022, in May ‘22, we announced as a startup, and we separated out and completely focused on external businesses, with practitioners, customers, and partners, and solely focused on our AI security product. And basically, the motto is securing AI systems of the world.

Kris: I love it. Okay, so, this big mission that you guys have here that, you know, to secure the world. I mean, that’s a great kind of mission statement and catchphrase, if you want to call it that. And I’m sure that there’s a lot that’s involved from, like, a technical perspective on how that works. I was having a conversation with somebody the other day about this, where AI, in general, is not a new thing, right? AI has been around for years and years and years at this point. But it feels like a lot more companies are adapting and utilizing AI in different ways. And AI is becoming a tool for the average consumer to use all the time. So talk to me about that kind of difference. And that kind of growth that you’ve seen over the past maybe 5, 10 years or so, where we’re AI, you guys are utilizing AI within security. But we’ve also got things like ChatGPT, which is very simple, and on my phone, at this rate, I can tell it to write me a short story. But you guys are doing stuff that’s a lot deeper than that. So dive into that if you can.

Shiv: Sure. So you’re absolutely right; AI adoption, everything is related to AI adoption. But I would like to add one more parameter to it that with AI adoption, the risks are also increasing. So when we look at the AI journey itself, just simplifying it, we can call it AI 1.0, which was basic statistics to rule-based implementations where we are, we were looking at the analytics part of applications. From 1.0, we reached 2.0, which was all about machine learning, deep learning applications. And third is 3.0, which is effectively generative AI; its adoption. What we have seen is that, with respect to the industry, as these AI options increase, the risks are also increasing. The risk being that your AI application could be compromised. And when your AI application gets compromised, there are a lot of things which could happen. You could lose your business reputation, your brand reputation. You could lose the revenue because your application is not working. You could lose your competitive advantage because you have invested so much into building AI, and now it has been attacked. It has been stolen, something akin to software stealing as one of the examples. So because of these adoptions, the risks are also increasing. And that’s what many practitioners always knew. And that’s where our product comes in. But what happened with generative AI also, I would like to state very specifically that if anything generative AI has done, besides the news and wants and the various happenings around it, it has brought the focus for AI security and safety aspects all together. So, that is where our product gets more and more better fitted, in terms of providing security of AI systems, be it ai 2.0 to 3.0.

Kris: And that makes sense, you know, with the growth in the adaptation of AI, right? And with every business wanting to utilize it in some sort of way, it feels like there are two parts to it, right? There’s the security side, which is what you guys are working on and making sure that, you know, applications are locked down, making sure that everything’s secure. But there’s probably also an education side to this whole thing as well, which, you know, where people are just learning about what AI can even do for them, right? And trying to figure out what these applications even look like. So, do you guys have any part in that in terms of the education, you know, trying to just like educate your partners or prospects? Or, you know, whatever the conversation is on saying, “Hey, it’s awesome that you have this, here’s what it can do. But here’s where things can go wrong?”

Shiv: Absolutely, absolutely. So when we look at AI adoption, one of the good things to understand is, when we see AI security, security of AI systems, there is not much know-how with respect to all the organizations or practitioners that are there. So that’s why, even as part of our sales strategy, there’s a lot of education awareness that we do. And we have created a lot of collaterals also in the same domain because we understood very early when I started on AIShield business my initial objective was basically to go from zero to one of a security business. And going into the field and talking to a lot of prospects, I understood very early that it is not about that I just have a product, and I give it to users to adopt, right? I have to make them understand why is it needed. So it is not the fact that you know, in many places, we say that, you build it, and people will come. It is not like that in AI security. So right now, we do a lot of education and awareness, which means that there are different methods, you know, we can offer trials to the users. For CXOs, you need to show the impact of what happens when an AI application gets compromised. What are the revenue or cost impact of that? We also are seeing regulations coming up. So what are regulators asking in AI security domain, or the cybersecurity of AI systems, and how the product itself can help with that? So a lot of education awareness, there are small changes, which we are now seeing that, when I started last year, let’s say I was having 10 conversations, and nine out of those 10 went into education and awareness because people had no idea about AI security. But just in the last one and a half years, the industry and practitioners have come on board. So now, if I have to speak of the same issue, it’s four or five of them, where we are starting with the education awareness first and then delving into what we can offer. But yes, as part of the overall sales strategy, it is not just product-led sales, where we have a product, and we are pushing it. It is broad, like sales plus a lot of traditional sales activities that you’re doing, we are doing, and education awareness is one part of that.

Kris: And that’s good too, I think, not just for you guys, but kind of speaking a little bit more in general, too, right? If a company, whether they’re dealing in AI or they’re dealing in something, any sort of like emerging technology, basically, I think it’s very important to include an educational factor into the sales cycle. And I think that’s kind of where I’m going with that thought there is making sure that people understand, you know, this is a cool piece of tech, like I can utilize this, I could probably do a million different things with it. You know, me personally, I use AI for Photoshop manipulation. And I think that that’s cool. But there are probably so many more ins and outs to the education side to help people understand truly what you can do. And to your point, the things that could potentially go wrong, or understanding the regulations on how to control certain things, or how certain things need to be built, utilized, and so on and so forth. I’m sure we’re not at the point yet, with AI where we have to worry about a Terminator scenario or anything crazy like robots taking over the world. But these are all important factors, and probably very real factors that sound like you deal with on a day-to-day basis because of how a lot of these things are progressing very rapidly. And a lot of that makes sense. And I think that anybody who’s listening, you know, should definitely take a look at that, too. If they’re trying to learn or they’re trying to, sell something that’s a piece of emerging technology, education is a huge factor as a part of that. Now, I’m curious because you guys utilize AI and AI security and, you know, concentrate on locking it down. But you, as the CRO, you’re in charge of marketing and sales and strategic partnerships, a lot of different hats that it sounds like you were under one big one, right? How are you guys utilizing AI, if at all, within the sales and marketing track? Are you guys utilizing AI to help you guys create materials? Help you guys create conversations? Or is it more or less saying, hey, this is the product we have; this is the education forum we have; we’re trying to go out into the world? So what’s that strategy like for you guys?

Shiv: different things. When we look at. are we ourselves using AI? Yes, we are. And one always should, I must say. So we use a lot of AI-based tools as part of our sales and marketing tech stack, different tools are there. And we also have an AI component as part of our own product itself. So that is where the tools part comes in. And we augment, right, from anything related to email automation, lead generation to content creation as well. So the first step is something that we always apply if you can use an AI or a tool as part of it. And then we also put in our efforts of contextualizing it further and improving it further. So that’s that’s the first part on the AI tools part and using it with respect to the different responsibilities. So, there are three responsibilities that sales, marketing, and partnerships. I will speak of partnerships first because you specifically said AI and tools. When we look at AIShield, we understood very early that it is not a one-man walk-alone scenario because, at the end of the day, you are providing security of AI systems. So you have to integrate with different ecosystems. So what we have done and gone ahead with is that we have partnered, and what I mean by that is, AIShield as a product is integrated with various platforms itself, who are providing cybersecurity; who are part of the AI ML ops lifecycle. We also have SIE integrations in cybersecurity, and we have gone ahead and entered into integrations with various companies who are using some domain-specific things as well as testing, inspection and certification, or any kind of specific industry domain like healthcare and finance. So that’s on the partnership part, internally AI, then, you know, integrating with the ecosystem, finding the best partners, we have done that. And then coming to sales and marketing: in marketing, we have always been, from the perspective of what is the best message for education awareness, part one. And then everything in marketing revolves around using the product itself. So, we have product demos and trials for initial customer acquisition and education, as well as them experiencing how the product works. And then, of course, the onboarding is also taken by the product and the life part of it. When it comes to sales, that’s a very different thing there. I will say AI helps us to create the MQLs, or the marketing-qualified leads, I would say. But after that, it’s all about a very hybrid strategy that we have adopted.

Kris: That’s exactly kind of what I was going to ask next. I don’t know if you read my mind, but you’re really good at this. What’s that balance like then for your sales team? Because what I see and, you know, I was joking with my internal team the other day about, I received a cold call or a cold email, like much of us do, right? That was very over, obviously, written by AI. And it did not seem like a human touch to it at all. It was like, hey, write me an email that’s about this. And I’m going to send immediately that because it was packed with language that doesn’t sound natural. It sounds overly formal if that makes sense. So what’s the split for you guys in your sales teams? Whether you’re creating copy or you’re utilizing it to kind of gather leads and gather MQLs? What’s kind of like the balance there? Is it like a 50/50? Do you try to rely on AI, you know, maybe 65 percent of the way? What’s that look like for you guys and your sales team?

Shiv: When we look at this hybrid strategy, as I had mentioned, and you have picked up the right question, there are two aspects of it. One is when you look in the industry, we see a lot of B2C companies going by the product-led growth, which means everything that they do, from generating leads to converting them and then sustaining them, everything is built around the product that is there. And it can, at the end of the day, be an AI product. The second strategy, which we see, in some B2B, I will not say all of them because even some majority of B2B even use product-led growth, the sales-led growth comes in where the majority of the work is happening from the sales development representative side. So, there is more human intervention as part of sales-led approach where you’re talking to CXOs, you are gathering their problems, and then customizing things all the way. It takes more time to convert those leads as well. When we looked at AIShield and AI security, we understood very early that none of them individually is going to work with us because they don’t relate back to the point earlier. There needs to be a lot of education and awareness. And so it cannot be product-led growth, where you simply push a product and, you know, automate things around it and expect users to first use it and then buy it as well. And then it cannot be completely sales-led growth as well wherein you are reaching out, writing these emails, and then, you know, customizing them and then getting into long conversations from demos to further contextualization of their use case and go forward. So, what we did was a smart balance, in this case, that uses the best of the technology that we have. So we have a mature product. So, some aspects are product-led growth, and some aspects are sales-led growth, and we are effectively doing, which also is an industry term now, which is product-led sales. So, we are mixing the tool process with the traditional sales part. So that is where,as I said, we can use a lot of automation. And we do, in fact, for generating marketing-qualified leads. But there is another thing which comes in it is not sales-qualified leads, but product-qualified leads. So the moment we get a connector interest from somebody because the product, we ask them if they want to have a trial of this product, and many users actually do. And when they do the trial, the confidence comes in, and then they open up about their particular use case that okay, “I wanted this feature; is it available or not?” Or I’m trying to do it for this particular use case. And that is where a bit of sales intervention comes in. So it’s a very hybrid strategy that we have adopted, which has, in fact, worked for us, which is a combination of product-led growth as well as its sales-led growth.

Kris: I like that. I think that that approach makes a ton of sense, specifically for you guys. And, like, the industry that you’re in and the products that you have, and kind of the ways that you can utilize that. Like I said, it sounds like you wear a lot of hats. So, I’m sure that juggling that tends to become a fun challenge, let’s call it, right? A fun challenge for you. Talk to me a little bit more from like a personal level for you, right? you’ve had 13 years of experience, you know, dealing with sales and marketing and partnerships and just a handful of other startups, things like that. What’s your approach to your position? You know, do you do you find yourself being, you know, very structured in your day? Do you find yourself, you know, kind of like time blocking things off? I’m curious to know how you’re able to do all of this at roughly the same time.

Shiv: So that’s an interesting question, and I will speak in context of as you listen because you always get a lot of answers based on, for example, what you use the word structure, right? So, yes, the structure has come in, if I have to define our journey in AIShield, it is all about adaptability. So, last year, when I started, I was the only person who was responsible for the CRO function. So it was like the CRO organization was me as one person it was myself. So started like that. Initially, there was a lot of different initiatives being taken when I started I quickly to achieve zero into one, exhausted all my personal network of introducing ETSI to them and see, you know, how we can work together. I did try via various tools, for example, LinkedIn navigator itself, which helped a bit, but very soon, I exhausted these early measures, and that’s when I went to the next step. So, there was a one level of adoption, which was all around, if I can leverage lead generation tools and teams outside, that is where I went in and I got specific teams to work with, especially in the US and in Israel, and that started working, and then I realized that we are, we were in the founder Lexi’s domain. So, all the founders were doing everything, and that is when we realized that we would be very soon coming to the revenue stage, which we are now, and that is where we need to build a team. So I started hiring. So currently, the company team is five people, myself and four of my colleagues, and when they themselves started, they also were doing every function. So it was not that, like, I was doing sales, marketing, and partnerships, like, they also started with that because we could not afford the luxury of okay, now you have been hired, and you are joining the team, you are very passionate about it. Or let’s say sales. So, you take sales, we could not do that because we did not have the bandwidth to assign somebody, and we did not know what thing we could do at what pace. So, we started like that, and then the adaptions came further, this showed that they have specific progress into one domain, and that is where they took the lead and supported others in the other ones. So somebody is taking lead in the business development, somebody is taking lead in the partnership management, somebody’s handling the lead generation companies that we are working externally with. And that is where you know, the “we” came about. And we did adopt multiple things as part of tools itself. So we keep track via CRM, what are our latest tasks? In fact, we internally have a priority matrix as well, which basically tells us okay, this deal is high priority. What are the actions to be taken? And that happens every day; we check that every day for a high priority, what are the actions to be taken, and how can we respond to it in the next one or two days max? So that is why slowly these processes are also coming in.

Kris: Yeah, so very much a, you know, you started from the bottom, and now you’re here type thing, right? Where you are very much like crafting and cultivating and building everything from almost literally scratch, right? What’s the relationship then between, if you don’t mind just speaking to it, between AIShield and Bosch, right? Because you guys are kind of not quite rolled up underneath, you guys are a part of Bosch, right? And kind of a little bit of a spin-off there, but what’s the relationship like between you guys and Bosch? Is it like a normal interaction where you’re interacting with the main Bosch team every day? Is it more or less, you know, you can pull resources from them? You can send customers to them if they need something from Bosch as a core service. How does that all look? 

Shiv: So, it’s a little different. I perfectly understand these points and assumptions, but the reality is not entirely like that. So, we are a good team of 25 people here in Bangalore. Yes, we have sales offices and our external lead generation companies. Representatives in other countries as well, but we are a 25-member team. Yes, as a spinoff of Bosch, we do not share any resources, all these qualified people, they are spread across the AIShield business functions of product technology, research, and business. All of them are not working on any other projects or collaborating with Bosch in terms of resource or any other technology or tool. When it comes to the customers, we get a lot of got a lot of support from Bosch initially because when you look at Bosch, you know, there is a brand perception there is the trust aspects. And we are building trust in AI systems. But the strategic fields are a bit different. As AIShield, AI security, we are a horizontal function. So, we have customers in banking and healthcare space, for example. But when somebody looks at Bosch, they think of automotive and manufacturing, for the person-centered said itself. So we have completely taken a separate road since May 2022. Currently, we are working with 40 plus organizations within AIShield, and all of them have come from AIShield sales initiatives, they are no shared customers, as such.

Kris: That’s even more commendable, then, you know, to be able to be functioning, you know, within your own space and your own resources. And again, just like you said before, right, being able to build everything from the ground up, expand your team, expand your offering, and so on and so forth. I want to shift gears a little bit and utilize some of that. And I’m not asking you to give away the farm, I’m sure that you guys have your own, like trade secrets or things, ways that you go about the sales and the marketing and utilizing tech, all that sort of stuff. But if you are approached by somebody who’s looking to be either an AI startup of some kind or an emerging technology startup of some kind, what are some key strategies or pieces of advice that you might give that person to try and help them out? What are some key things that, you know, you might be able to help them out with in terms of, say: hey, look at this first, or here’s where I would recommend starting with this? So what does that look like? 

Shiv: First thing which comes to my mind is that, from my own experience, at AIShield, I was very fortunate to have a strong product and technology team. So, when I go and speak to customers, you know, we joke around, and we see some of the memes as well that, you know, the product team says that this feature is going to be in the roadmap and sales is that this feature has already been sold to the customer. Things happening, and yeah, you know, it works sometimes as well. But what I have learned is that if you have a very strong product, technology, and research team, it gives you a lot of benefits into sales conversions. Now, taking it back in the timeline, because you start you said about starting, you know, a startup and working on AI or cybersecurity teams. So, that is where the first thing that, even from a sales function, should do is understand what the product is or you know, even before that, validate the idea and the product in the market. So, initially, the focus should not be heavy on the revenue aspect but heavy on the user’s aspect, its validation aspects. That is the place where you have to find the personas. You will not find it in your first call, okay. You theoretically doing inside strategy workshops internally, you will define some things, you will define some assumptions of yeah, this is what my ideal customer persona is going to be, this is what my buyer or decision maker or influencer is going to be. Yes, do that. But you need to do a lot of fieldwork before going into the market, talk to businesses, and push your idea and the product, and see what kind of customer personas are actually reciprocating to you. So that’s the first part. The second thing is you have to define your sales strategy and be ready to change it in one week. It just so happened that last year when we started, we did a lot of things, go into the product, do just the sales, what kind of different initiatives, which region, which customer persona. So, we did not just lock in on one strategy. We kept adapting as the market gave us feedback. And that has finally given us a lot of confidence and conversions this particular year. So, be ready to first invest your time in the strategy, find the personas, find the messaging, find the way that you will generate leads and qualify them, but be ready to adapt to it as soon as possible. Don’t be the victim of, oh, I put so much effort into it, and why it is not working, and keep thinking over it. You always have to adapt because, at the end of the day, what the market or the user tells you, so that is the king, that is the objective that you have to run with. So, first thing is to validate the idea and the product and take all the information that you can gather from your product and technology teams. Second is, when you go into the market, yes, have a strategy, but be ready to adapt to it. And the third thing I would say is, when it comes to the customers, be ready to do a lot of customizations. They will look at it as customizations for the first part. But very soon, you will see that another customer is asking for it. And then you go back to your product team and tell them, “Hey, these are requirements that we are getting, and it will become a feature as well.” So that is where you give your inputs to your product and technology teams back from the market happenings as well. So taking it in these steps. One last advice that I would give is with respect to marketing, and it may be a contrarian approach, I would say, we started, and we still are not spending very heavy on marketing. But still, we were able to generate, initially, the customer traction and then the revenues as well. Because we could backup, once the conversation started, everything with a product and technology. What happens in some cases is that startups have a lot of money, and that is where they focus, the majority of it towards marketing. And that’s where you will get leads, you will get conversations when it comes to actual conversions, and that is where you will take a hit if your product or technology also is not at the same scale. That is what I’ve observed.

Kris:Yeah. And and I think that that makes a ton of sense, specifically in the technology sector, right? Where if, if we’re dealing with maybe any sort of different industry focusing on sales and marketing might make a little bit more sense. First, if you’ve either got an established product or, or you’ve got something that doesn’t take a lot of customization, right? It’s, more or less like a one-size-fits-all, but for you guys specifically, and for tech in general, I like that answer and that approach of focusing on the technology product team. As soon as you mentioned that meme, I can imagine the exact same one in my head, right? Where it’s, you know, hey, yeah, we’re going to develop this in two months, but the sales team already sold it last week. So that’s going to be fun to communicate to the team and everything like that. But I love that approach; I love that answer. And I’m sure that anyone who’s listening in, anyone who’s kind of watching, we’ll find a lot of value in that, if anybody’s in a startup position. And will be able to kind of start things up and and so on and so forth. So, I really, really appreciate that. We’re kind of coming up on time here, and I want to be respectful of that, make sure that you can skate off to some other meetings. I know that you mentioned that you have during the day. But I want to give you just kind of like a couple of minutes, if you have any final questions, final statements, any, any other pieces of advice, anything like that, that you want to kind of say to sign some things off, Shiv. I’ll kind of pass the floor over to you.

Shiv: Yeah, so just one point, and this is not a serious pitch, but because you said that, education awareness, we strongly believe practitioners need to know more about AI security. There are a lot of questions and clarifications they would have. So, at AIShield, we take it as a separate exercise and concentrate towards it. So, anybody can visit our website, which is www.boschaishield.com/home.html, and we also have full documentation available with free trials, which is basically docs.boschaishield.com. So, any practitioner out there who wants to know more on AI security, experience the product itself, we’ll be very happy to provide all the answers. Just that because we are very passionate about AI security as the topic itself.

Kris: And for any of the listeners out there, I’ll make sure that we have all the links kind of down in the description of the videos. That way, if anybody who’s listening wants to go and check that out, anybody who’s interested in AI or has an AI startup or an AI product, security is definitely something that you’ll want to take a look at. So, Shiv and his team are the people that you want to have a conversation with. So Shiv, thank you very much. And thank you very much for coming and hanging out with me today and getting a chance to chat for a little bit. It’s great to meet you. It’s great to hear kind of your approach to things, right? What it is that AIShield is doing, being a spinoff of Bosch as of 2022. I’ll make sure that I remember that for next time. But, you know, I really appreciate all the answers, the insight that you gave, and I’m sure that the listeners will really appreciate that as well. So thank you very much for joining me today, and I hope you enjoy the rest of your day. Thank you. 

Shiv: Thank you so much, Chris. And I’m very happy to be here.

Vito Vishnepolsky
Vito Vishnepolsky
CEO and Founder at Martal Group