Building and Scaling Great Teams w/ Vishal Sunak

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

One of the biggest frustrations at a high growth software company can be the speed at which you’re releasing features and functionality. You’re a high growth software company, so why does it seem like you’re moving so slow in this area?

And how do you bring your teams together to meet product launch deadlines?


On this episode of Application Modernization, we sit down with Vishal Sunak. Vishal is the Co-Founder and CEO of LinkSquares, the first AI-powered end-to-end contract life cycle management platform.

We talked all about:

  • How to build great teams that release new features at a rapid pace
  • Why you must align teams to focus on the "right" new features
  • How to save costs by scaling infrastructure with AWS and serverless
  • Why it’s important to always plan one quarter ahead
  • His approach to hiring and building a high performing leadership team

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You are listening to application modernization, a show that spotlights the forward thinking leaders of higro software companies. From scaling applications and accelerating time to market to avoiding expensive license and costs, we discuss how you can innovate with new technology and forward thinking processes and save some cash in the process. Let's get into it. Welcome to application modernization. Today we're talking about building and scaling great teams with Vishal Sunnic, CEO of link squares, a contract management solution that elevates legal teams to write better contracts and analyze existing contracts in one easy to use platform. For shall and his Co founder, Chris Combs, founded link squares in two thousand and fifteen and have since grown the company to a hundred plus employees and hundreds of happy customers. During this growth, for shall's focus on building great teams has helped him to keep the company aligned on a road map that has prioritized feedback from customers and team members, and it's these great teams and leaders that have helped link squares mov incredibly fast. In this episode, will hear how link squares builds teams and processes that release new features at a rapid pace, aligns teams to focus on the right new features and scales infrastructure with eight of US and Sevilis to save costs. Here we go without guests. Vishale Sunic Hey, Visha, I love your founding story. You and Chrish built your MVP in two thousand and fifteen. Tell me how you approach that and you know a bit of what were you thinking at the time? Yeah, we were two guys with an idea, and I hypothesis that I don't think companies know what's inside their executed contracts. And I hadn't been working out a tech company and went through an acquisition process. Bigger company came in and bought US and ask US lots of questions, and so we couldn't answer what we agreed to in customer agreements. And I looked out in the market and I said to myself, well, there's lots of tools and like contract management generally, but it didn't seem like there was a focus on like documents you already executed versus documents that you're trying to sign, like presegnature. And so when we thought about you know, the very earliest to day is really around validation validation that we, as entrepreneurs, have found a problem that is worth solving, and I think that was a really important part of the journey, all those slow and painful, very long kind of twelve months of talking to essentially the buyer of our product today and formalizing and synthesizing kind of what their needs are. What do they buy, what tools do they have? How do they think about it? What are their pain points, and kind of going from there. Yeah, I remember back in two thousand and sixteen you had a little Mo Day thinking Atlanta and you spoke about some of the cold email that you were using to try and, you know, just start...

...speaking to some of your customers. You can understand their needs. Can you share a little bit more about, you know, that approach and what you learn? Yeah, so Lin squares as a product selling to primarily general councils and back then in two thousand and fifteen, two thousand and sixteen, I knew exactly zero and I said to myself, well, if I know zero general councils and it's not like I could potentially like go to an event, but it's kind of creepy to let's just start talking to people about startups. What's the easiest way to get in front of this buyer and valid a what we're doing? And so I had worked out a bunch of companies were like outbound was as a very valuable tactic and strategy, and so we started cold emailing general counsels. Hey, I'm michell. You never heard about me, the CEO of this company. I think you have this problem around not knowing what s inside your contracts. Like we give me twenty minutes and it works. I mean I remember the first kind of big send. We did maybe two hundred contacts. We had like fifteen hand raises and some amazing like Unicorn companies to reply. Then they're like yeah, sure, we can talk, and I remember telling Chris how you know how naive we were. I was like we made it, bro we did it, but a long journey, you know, even from that until now. But yeah, it's just kind of like being unafraid about saying to yourself I need to validate and I'm not a lawyer, I'm not a general counsel, I can't validate it because of my own knowledge right. And so there's a really important distinction of like how are you validating problem? How you validating a solution right, and the easiest for us was just turn the meter to I don't care and break the handle and just start emailing anyone and everyone we could find. That's that's one way to get that insight. So when you're getting this insight and you're learning about your customers and you're building out your first sort of version of the product and then you know you then you bring on a couple of customers and have to sort of innovate and scale that platform to meet, you know, the new demand. Talk US through, you know how you went from sort of one or unto five customers, to twenty to thirty, and what were some of the considerations that you needed to think about on that journey? Yeah, so our analyzed product was the first product that we built and we have two products now, two different use cases. But thinking about essentially a very supercharge repository meant that initially validating that we could build a cloud based repository word documents could be stored and then from there continuing to show people some of a reporting and the searching and the types of insights they could gather which ultimately, through enough conversations and the end the early believers had some real pain, like they had one had a security breach and they have to go through all their contracts and figure out what they had agreed to. This customer in particular had worked with like the world's largest brands, like that was their whole thing, like building communities. And along the journey what we begin to realize was people liked the...

...ability to like take their contracts and like search them, especially scam PDF, and be able to do like words searching. But the real path to an amazing experience was some sort of automated way for the system to tell them what they've agreed to without having to read it, without having to manually search it. And that's kind of the validation of like an AI journey and applied ai use case, right, being able to have algorithms read a contract and actually extract and create metadata. Essentially the same would be like an algorithm inputs fields into cells forcecom on behalf of the sales are up based on a voice conversation they had. Right, it was kind of the same thinking of like, Huh, this could be something that could be immensely valuable, like if you had a hundred pieces of data what you agreed in a contracting you didn't have to read it and it was super fast and really accurate. Definitely something there, right. So, as you were you're scaling your team, you and you're bringing on new customers. You know, we spoke early but before going live here. You know, you've got your ten teams now working concurrently, you know, and it's growing rapidly. What are some some tactics and strategies they keep that you're using to build those teams and show everyone's working together towards the end outcome? Yeah, I mean, first of all it's alignment on the Road Map, and alignment on the road map means inputs from everyone in the company and our customer base. Right. So what is sales hearing in the market every day? Right, and if you're thinking about your sales team correctly, they are not only the closers of new business revenue and potentially up cells and renewals, depending on how you set it up, they're also getting real time market feedback about how our positioning of our product is in a market and with a bar. So not to say we overfit in any direction, but it's a really valuable insight. Right, if you talk to fifty general councils yesterday and our product was a great fit for fifty of them. Then you know like, okay, yeah, we have the core set of things. But then as soon as you start to hear like Oh, I wish the product did this and it doesn't do this or your competitor does that and I really see value in that. And then you take those inputs, you obviously listen to customers. And how do you quote UN go listen to customers? Well, they come in through like support tickets or qbrs that the success team has, or we have a customer visory panel. We get them together, we show them kind of new things and new areas are going to take the products and new features that we think could add value. And also, because I'm in a competitive market, like we're opportunities where what I think of about it is like customers have a pre existing bias that they need this feature and because this feature may have been available over the last ten years or fifteen years. And to what extent should we contest that and what extent should we reinvent that or to what extent should we recreate it based on their input? Right? I mean, ultimately, the five most kind of dangerous words in...

...our company are it would be cool if blank and it would be cool doesn't should never, should never come to come to light ever in decisionmaking, right. And so you got to align on the Road Map and I think one thing that's really important is you got align on dates. And it's the hardest thing to do. It's like asking the question of like how the universe got formed. Like it's the hardest thing to do in this game is to say this thing will ship in April, this thing you'll shipping June seventeen, this thing will ship in August twenty four, like just trying to own the dates, even though things happen, priorities get shifted, stuff comes up, even technically the design process, like things that we're doing that are truly novel, truly new, can increase just timelines and horizons. I mean that's like a big priority. Something we've been working on is just, you know, can we get things done in quarters as promise? You know what's next is, can we get things done in months, as promise? And a lot of it comes down to then, after that, building on time, building for high quality and then the whole process around launches. Yeah, I say in the company that the actual building of the software code that's going to get merged into the master branch is probably ten percent of the overall exercise to build something meaningfully and new, right. And so what's left in the ninety percent is training in the sales team, training the success team, updating your pricing and packaging, updating your website, updating your Zendsk knowledge base, creating videos, walk through guides, training the teams on how to Demo it, and then also how do we position the company? Maybe it's such a significant feature, like the day we built the second product. Now you were sweeter products, and then there's a different change to positioning and branding. And so there's a lot that goes into the road map and very little of it, even though it can be very difficult, it has to do with the software. That's fascinating. You know, one thing I've really seen over the last six, twelve months is new features that you're rolling out and you've got the email integration order, a new dashboard, smart values. How do you move so fast? And what advice do you have for other leaders at high growth companies that I just been moving too slow and they're getting frustrated by you know, the speed at which they're releasing features and functionality. Yeah, we think about a quarter ahead at any moment in time. So the work that we're actively building in Q two was groomed, decided on, designed, users stories created so that on the first April the build of those stuff can begin. Right, and I say this now, is the company is approaching like a hundred people, right, and we're definitely afforded different luxuries than when we were twenty people and we had always dream about the day we were a hundred people and we could do this sort of stuff. But you know, to the ascent that...

...is possible. It's like you have to think one quarter ahead and you can't start the design work on the first of April if you expect to have it shipped again, back to what I was saying, by the fifteen of May, because uiu access to take over and build the mock up. So you got to get validation, you got to write the user stories and you basically have to have all the work on deck where you to go one quarter in advance and think about yourself going ahead, right. And also it means saying no. It means saying no no matter what and owning the road map and creating a culture inside the organization that, even though we're a hundred people, we just can't do everything all the time, constantly, just because one constituent in the company, be its success, be it sales, even be a customers, can govern things that can happen kind of asynchronously or everything has to follow like periodicity for us, right, it's like we think about things a quarter in advance. We design them to be built the next quarter, then we build them there then we're thinking about the next quarter and that's cool. Like I'm not thinking seventeen quarters ahead, like in two thousand and twenty four we will two thousand and twenty seven, we will launch this feature. I think try to think about it one quarter ahead. If you if you're really good at it, you can start thinking two quarters ahead. Right. I think saying no is is a very interesting sort of just topic to maybe dig a bit deeper on. You know, often times, you know in some organizations it's the the loudest leader, you know, has the say and you know often times you know, people may get a bit distracted in the way that they, you know, go about that road map. What do you look for? I mean you would at a guy like how do you sho to try and make those decisions around Your Road Map? One of the best things that I do is hire a bunch of experts and tell them what is important to me and get and try it as hard as I can, to get out of the way and trust them to make the right decisions and coach them and cheer leave them when they can't make a decision or it's too hard of a decision or it's something that requires a little bit of risk, that I'm happy to assume that risk. But for the most part, letting people who actively groom what we should build and internal to the company in the product management organization, letting them advocate for what they believe is important per product or per part of the universe that they cover, and try to let everyone, you know, at least build the most important thing that they believe because if you're doing this whole thing right, the product managers are essentially the microphone that's picking up all the different voices and constituents and opinions and then crossing that with what we can build and what resources are available, and so I think we're doing doing a great job. They're continuing to think about what is the next most important thing or what are things that can enable new business sales or enable retention conversations or enable upselling. Ultimately, features that don't do one of those...

...three things other than like infrastructure work and refactoring because stuff is broken. It really we lends everything with, like why do we build this? Well, we build it for the new business team. Because of these deals that didn't work out. They said it was missing this. So, hypothetically, if we had this, then the next fifty deals that come up that require x feature, we can maybe turn a no into it yes, right, and so every feature is really lends with. Can to help new business? Can help with retention? That's just like overall customer happiness, to whether they're in a renewal conversation or not. And can it drive meaningful kind of recurring revenue through expansion? Right, and so we lends every decision like that, like why? Why? Why do we build this? Like why is it an urgent need? Right, and you speak of building and relying on your teams and hiring for people that can make those decisions. You know, I look at your growth and you hide your cteo in two thousand and seventeen, your head of sales in two thousand and eighteen and head of marketing in two thousand and nineteen. Can you share your approach to hiring and building out a leadership team? Yeah, so, as CEO I have a really simple philosophy. I'm one person. I'm only good at so many things. There's only so much time in every day. So when I think about a leadership team, I think about an expert in every role in the company who works for me. And if you're doing it right, you hire a bunch of experts and because they are experts, they are easily enabled to hire people who want to be just like them. Like I think every engineer on our engineering team basically wants to be Eric My cto right once, the knowledge that Erik has, once, the ability to build things like Eric does, once, the ability to make technical decisions like he does, right, and so I think it's a massively powerful recruiting tactic and strategy. It's that if you have a great leader there and a great expert, they will naturally magnetize the best talent to them. And that definitely is true in like sales teams and in my sales team and my success teams. Right, the people that I have running the department is really a reflection on mean the CEO, and so we found that to be really the most powerful magnetizing power of recruiting is, why don't you come join us on the sales team. You'll have amazing sales directors who could easily be VP of sales at any tech company in this area or anywhere else. You have an awesome cro who's been around the block, who's held scale this stuff, who has made an amazing career for himself. And if you hang around with all these great experts, well, you know, who do you think the next expert is? And it's so funny. My Cro posted on linked in and he said I don't hire account executives, I make future Crros. I think I saw that he has some really nice interest in out...

...there posts on Linkedin and it looks like it works in terms of recruiting. I see a lot of engagement on those posts. Yeah, no, it's it's been working so well and building network, building community, especially we liveing on an awesome ECOS to so much like Atlanta right the Boston area here. It's just ripe with amazing talent that have been spent a couple of years elsewhere at other great tech companies learn't some great stuff, kind of looking for a change, looking for their next step. But yeah, I mean, if you think about that, then every engineer we're building cteos there. We're not. We're not building just single threaded individual contributors, and that's kind of like the bigger thinking that can help magnetize talent, right, right. So, speaking of the engineering and building this platform, what always fascinates me is, you know, I believe you're using a tows cloud and that's helping you scale your infrastructure to meet the needs of your customers. Like what are some of the sort of challenges along the way from a platform perspective that you've sort of run into that you know, as you scale from what one customer to five, to ten, to fifty to a hundred? So Youre anything that you know, it keeps coming up, that you need to consider? Yeah, we definitely need to consider like multiple simultaneous actions being performed in parallel, right, and pieces of code, pieces of infrastructure like, for example, bulk uploads. Right. The analyze product takes all your existing documents and we load it into our amazing repository and read the documents with Ai. So, like if we had ten customers, or we do like one bulk upload a week, right, or, you know, adding customers thereafter. You know, now we're adding, you know, fifty customers in a period or a hundred customers in a period or two under customers in a period. We have a lot more people trying to do the upload simultaneously, right, and so things slow down, right, things take longer than expected, things may even break right, and so it's like they're if you're doing the whole scaling your your Sass Company, well, you already know the things that are resource intensive, processing intensive, like, and so then that leads you down and it should lead you down different innovative paths. Like there's a big component of our AI pipeline that's server less, and having a severalist pipeline and several as processing is both very cost effective, you know, versus having servers that are just on seven trying to keep up with the load. You know, you do things serveralist. You can sleep and turn on and sleep and turn on and you can say costs because I'm not running. And so some of the challenges that you face, like as the company grows in scales, like you also need to grow in scale, kind of the innovation and the thinking around when a hundred of these occur in parallel, when a thousand of these occurring power when a million of these occur in parallel? Are we prepared to handle that?...

And we also have the philosophy that's like, you know, it's like future Vichal's problems, like future vichelle has a lot of problems that the past vichhall, you know, is created for him. And that's okay to write. There's certain bets you can make. You can solve it all to a hundred percent accuracy. You probably don't have the time right, but to the extent where you can start thinking about, like will this thing hold up? You? Will this thing hold up when we have fifty customers? Right? I mean a great example is our AI processing pipeline. Like we've processed like, I don't a hundred million pieces of data now, and and to process in general a hundred hundred million of anything means you got to have probably thought about that when you built it the first time. Right, and to the extent that you can, you know, do that right. It's easy to say, it's really hard to do, especially if you're exploring, like we weren't a big server less shop. And so again, if you hire a bunch of experts, they are like, yeah, I understand it, we can, we can do this, I understand it, and that it enables your future to be better. But there's plenty of like, you know, future Fischell's problems too. Yeah, so with say, cloud technologies and how you see sort of cloud moving in the next to the two, three, four five years, you know, what do you what do you see customers needing to consider? You mentioned severalists. I think you know a lot of customers are still trying to get there. Is there anything else that you know is something that's really top of mine for you? Yeah, to top of mine for me is always kind of the same things, like try to make the software as usable as possible and as easy to use as possible, like can single buttons take care of massive actions? The other thing is really around the intersection between like machine and human, which is like a really interesting thing, and as companies are trying to either forcibly or build companies that have a eye components, like what is the intersection between what a human did what a machine did, and do you understand what the machine did. If the machine made a recommendation or an inference or an extraction or generate a piece of data, like to what extend do you understand the decision the machine made? Do you understand how you could override that decision and make help it, assist in the next decision that it's going to make for you? And so those concepts early kind of like fascinating, right. You know, we're living in a world where decisions can be made by a machine. It's possible. To what extent do you want that machine to make that decision and what extent do you need to validate that the machine made the right decision? And like how do you do that in like a Ui right, right, you know, I always joke that like millions and millions of dollars and years and years of our lives building this AI technology that to read a contract essentially bubbles down into a thirty by thirty pixel that shows an icon that we have high confidence like that's it,...

...like whatever else doesn't matter. Like I've found the effective date in the contract, I extracted it, I put the date there and I put a little icon and that's it. Like, you know, how do you synthesize this massive mathematical processing and this huge gigantic reading of words and sentences and probabilities and math. But ultimately people can't understand that stuff, right. I mean people can't understand that, but they understand that an icon is green, that means it's I confidence. Yeah, yeah, you're spot on. I think that intersection, yeah, between you know, what's the robot going to do what's the human going to do, is something will uncover in the next sort a few years and will become clearer. So switching gears or a little bit. And you know, moving back to building teams and scaling these teams, how do you sort of see link squares growing in the next sort of one, two, three years, and how important is the teams to that growth? Yeah, I think triple the size of the technology organization, triple the size of the cells team. And if you if you have big goals right to triple organizational sizes, then the hardest part is keeping people aligned, keeping people in SINC aligning on the road map, thinking and working ahead, being prepared, having a very good launch process right. And so if you're a software company, then the software is the thing that people buy. So the software doesn't work or you're building the wrong things, then you're going to slow down your revenue organization, thus trying to get people to buy it, and then your success organization and get people to use it and make them happen, right. And so it's the same game that it was three years ago. It's the same game that it is now. It just becomes harder because one day will have twenty five teams building in parallel with five people on each team. And you know, the good thing is is that, like you know, we're not the first company to ever think this way, where there's so many great articles published in kind of common knowledge that we all share, of like how does help spot do it? And and they obviously focus on smaller teams with like a PM and they in a front end designer and back end engineer and a front end engineer and a key way resource and, like you, going bigger by actually going much smaller, right, and I think the key to doing a lot of work in a quarter or in a period or a sprint is to actually think about doing things in much smaller units. And that's hard to do. You obviously need a lot of people and it's hard to keep them insane, but that's the best way to do it right. That's the best way to do is to think much smaller teams, smaller teams that can own something and be it takes one sprint or two sprints or three sprints or whatever the answer is, that's still you do it right and and adding and ramping things slowly. Right, I don't have to triple the size of my engineering team this month, but as you kind of begin to learn,...

...like, okay, when we had three teams building in parallel, life was like this, and then now we have ten teams building in parallel, life is different. So we've learned more about how to go from three to ten, and so I'm more confident in the journey of going like ten to twenty teams then then maybe even going three to ten. That was like really hard, right, and so the systems and processes around communication, cadences, meetings grooming right. A lot of it comes down to like fault, let's follow a process. Right, let's follow a process but still able to react right as quick as we can. That's really interesting. So what advice do you have for other high growth software leaders when it comes to, you know, building out these teams. Do you have any resources books, like where should they go to try and seek some of this additional advice? Yeah, there's there's a number of kind of great, kind of like avenues that folks can explore. I end up spending a lot of my time like reading media articles and there's a number of great ones around, like spotify sharing about their development approach and the smaller teams and and then I think it's well categories and documented, like hub spot right. Even though like there's lots of resources, I really like business to software and I'm like kind of passively attended some of the some of the conferences in years past and just like hearing from great software builders, CTEO's chief product officers, talking about their journeys. I think saster does a great job to a lot of the content is geared towards like fundraising and sales, but saster has all these amazing online events this year and returning in person September. Really a around like how did you do it? What were the things that you were thinking about? Where did things break right? And also we seek out a lot of like peer mentors. A lot of peer mentors have helped us. You know, we keep in an infinite amount of space in our brains and our time for, you know, mentorship and be that in like my cteo is in like a vpa engineering CTO for them, so he can ask more tactical questions about like what do you do for recruiting, and how do you think about talent? How do you think about talent? About you, which I think about building and the build process and like, if you're going to be a long term leader and you're going to ride a company for ten years from nothing to Ipoh and beyond, then it's in your best interest to continue to learn how others who are further down the path have done it right. And some of it can't be translated because every business is different, but there are some really good nuggets out there right and there's some really I mean it's never been a better time to just be able to learn and be and be, I kind of unafraid of cold emilling a great leader in your town and be like I'm a huge fan and and I love kind of the journey of the company and I'd love to just like ask you some questions about how you did it right. And those are the people who get ahead right we're getting inputs from everyone, right, everyone, people...

...that we have in the team, new opinions and the diversity that we build inside the company. Coming from big company, small, all companies, publicly traded companies, venture back companies, private equity, own companies, like, how does it work? Like, take all those inputs, try to try to do the best subgree that works for you, right, but constant, continuous learning. We're never done. We can always be better, right. Couldn't agree more. Last question for you, VI Shalle. Way Do you see yourself and link squares in five years time? What's the vision and you know what are you excited about? Yeah, I'm most excited about taking this department inside of a company, the legal department, elevating their status and getting them out of a lot of the work that has dragged them down historically in the last ten years. And some of the stories we hear about people with like juris doctor. It's having to like get files that are signed, renamed them to a nomenclature, put them in a folder, open up a spreadsheet, collect a hundred pieces of data manually. And I kind of liken it to like you have a heart surgeon who's now responsibilities to also clean all the instruments, and you will you know, that a lot of time to be a heart surgeon and be the best at what you do, because your bobbed down with kind of the administrative work that can take up sixty, seventy eighty percent of your week, right and I think, even though the mission will never be done, like you know, five years from now, people use Lind squares across the organization and all different things, right and and they're using the platform to help make their lives better and more insightful and collaborate and speed and that's really the dream war we have. Like your sales team uses our presignature products, a draft order forms and make NDA's and your legal team can work with your sales team directly inside sales for us, and they can. The legal team can work where they want. They want to work in the web application, they want to work in Microsoft word, they want to working out three hundred and sixty five, you know. And then and then thinking even extending right, extending the offering of the suite right of products, like you know, getting into things like RFP's and management of Ours Pas, because that's a big process, and getting deeper with like procurement teams and like. How do you buy vendor agreements to buy contracts from vendors and buy different things? And you know, what can we do to elevate the status? Right? The most concerning thing I read is, like you know, Gardner says this year legal teams inside companies, their budgets are going to stay the same or be asked or reduce. So what does that mean? They have yet to prove the value to the CEO and the CFO and maybe the board of just what they can do if they just had better tools like their peers do. Right, and that's the thing that wakes me up every day, gets me out of bed fired up about it. Yeah, Hey, look that. I love that vision. It's been so fun to watch your journey since two thousand and fifteen. I can on lyast to imagine how much value you're...

...creating for these legal teams and relates, propelling them to have a maybe a bigger seat at the table and create even more value for their own organizations. For shall it's been a pleasure having you on now podcast today. How can our guests, are now listeners, find you and follow you online? Sure, check out the company and when scorescom connect with me on Linkedin. Love to meet and chat about technology and building great companies, and thank you, Ross for having me to pleasure a great to great to connect a righty thanks for jaw. Application modernization is sponsored by Red Hat, the world's leading provider of enterprise open source solutions, including high performing Linux, cloud, container and COUBERNETTI's technologies. Thanks for listening to application modernization, a podcast for high growth software companies. Don't forget to subscribe to the show on your favorite podcast player so you never miss an episode, and if you use apple podcasts, do us a favor and leave a quick rating by tapping the stars. Join US on the next episode to learn more about modernizing your infrastructure and applications for growth. Until next time,.

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