Q&A with Łukasz Jeziorski, PlumResearch’s CEO & Founder

3064 0

“I’m always hungry for the next big thing,” says Łukasz Jeziorski, the magnetic CEO & Founder of PlumResearch. His powerhouse of a startup has grown to a sizable dispersed team (across three major Polish cities) with a client list that now includes top Hollywood studios and heavyweight global broadcasters.

But Łukasz is just getting started. Since pivoting his company in 2016, he’s had a straight-line vision for PlumResearch: to create a platform that can provide the most comprehensive, reliable, and granular data for the biggest players in television and film.

“A billion bucks of revenue is still the horizon,” he adds with a half-serious laugh. “I love moving the goalpost constantly for myself.”

We sat down with Łukasz via Zoom to hear about how he pivoted PlumResearch, what he thinks about iterating to MVP, and how startup founders should approach getting their first client.

Can you tell us about the road your startup took from music to television and film?

Sure, we first built the product to help the music industry monetize pirated content. We were looking at the part of the market that wasn’t aware that they had pirated content or that had it for so long that they wanted to contribute towards certain artists, and we thought it would be a great idea to have them pay a couple of bucks — the sort of iTunes model.

While it turned out that would not be the best PR for these companies, they loved the underlying data in our product, that you could see, for instance, which songs people have, what they’ve downloaded, and so on. So then we built the product for those labels. Along the way, we went back and forth with a lot of major organizations, like IFPI or the RIAA, and in 2016 we were invited to Cannes to Midem, the top music conference in the world.

On the stage while speaking to the jury at Midem, I found out that they don’t really need the product or they don’t get it. And I just wanted to ditch it basically right then and there at the conference. I also had a meeting with a great guy during the conference who mentioned that the SVOD platforms are not sharing data with the content owners, and that film & television market is far more data savvy. So I thought, “Let’s just screw it and pivot.”

Were there any pain points you encountered with pivoting?

It was basically starting everything from scratch. The biggest pain point was the human part of it, but it took me like a day or two to get everyone on board. It was quite a nice robust product, so I had to come into the office and tell people that we’re just ditching it. Just like that.

Łukasz on the Midem stage in 2016

For founders working towards their MVP, what advice do you have?

Better done than perfect! [laughs] Basically get it out there as soon as you can. Speak with everybody about it.

Let’s dive into that.

In our business, the customer really wants to know step-by-step how our company works. Only then are they confident about putting money on the table. So if they’re confident, they can sell you forward internally within the organization. If they are not 100% sure, they will not go forward.

So no “fake it ’til you make it” approach. It’s build your stuff, make it better done than perfect, push it out to the market, sell it as soon as you can, and then work with your initial customers on fine-tuning that product.

— Łukasz Jeziorski

With every single business in every single industry, people will spend far too much time on a product that nobody wants — something that just does not have product-market fit ultimately.

What was it like to iterate on your product while working with your first client?

The first customer we had was actually a major film studio. They assigned like 50 researchers to our product, and we went back and forth with each person, showing them the product, implementing their suggestions, and then proceeding to the next person. We basically had calls like every second day, and we had to implement the ideas really fast. Even if it was as scrappy as just showing that we know where we’re going on the roadmap, even though it’s not really ready.

And then when we had gone through the whole round of like 50 people, we redid it, showing them all how far we’d gone. We showed them what sort of data we have, how deep it is, how granular it is, and all we wanted was their help in visualizing it — what sort of business intelligence are you trying to make out of that data? We will just do it for you, and you hopefully will become our first customer. If not, all good because we just ended up with a great product and there is no hook on the other side. But obviously since they co-built that product, they signed on immediately.

No time within an accelerator will be as efficient as just working with a customer, unless it’s an accelerator that puts you in touch with a customer.

— Łukasz Jeziorski

How willing are these major corporations to put resources towards working with a startup?

Oh, absolutely they are not. [laughs] Let me explain. It basically depends on the corporation and on who you approach at which level, and if there is a separate team or department that is bound to work with startups. So with one of our potential customers right now, we are working through a team that basically does just that — they identify the right person within the organization that would benefit from the product most, as well as they often look at your product and see what additional benefits can be found.

We had a customer that said, “You know what, this type of information might be really interesting to our Piracy Department. If you could tweak it a bit, pivot it a bit…” And they just connected us with both the Research team and the Piracy Department. They were also constantly following up to make sure that the whole conversation didn’t fade out. So it’s great, but that company is one of the very, very few.

How do you evaluate and parse through the customer feedback?

On the sales side, it’s often important to evaluate if that prospect is going to close ever, which is not easy. On the product side, we have a policy that we try to build in anything.

So for instance, when customers come to us and ask, “What is the customization potential?” We say, “We can do anything you want and the internal policy is that if you are okay with growing our product — contributing towards product development — we will not charge you anything for that. We won’t charge you a dollar. But if you think you came up with a secret sauce or a metric that should be proprietary, then we would most likely think about making it for your account only and then we probably might bill.” Or, if it’s very simple, we would just make it part of the product for you.

It’s more important to actually work with a customer, to have the right relationship with them, instead of focusing on if they are right. Who am I to judge that? Let’s put that feature in and see if they actually use it. If it’s something huge, then the obvious approach is cross-checking — asking them sometime later, or asking somebody else from that team or that company or that department.

But from a sales perspective, if those are tiny features and prospects say, “Oh, you don’t have this feature and it’s a problem,” then you need to ask, “Okay, but is it a problem so that you won’t sign with us because we lack that feature? Okay. Then can you sign an agreement that says if I don’t deliver that feature in a month, for instance, that you will get full money back guaranteed?” And the answer is out there immediately.

Łukasz presenting PlumResearch at the 2017 Sports StartUp Project

What would you tell founders who are thinking of pitching these mid-to-large sized corporations, especially in the US?

Most of the companies want you to come up with a very tight vision. They don’t want to be the guinea pig. People don’t want to spend the time or resources, and basically their reputation within the company, bringing in something that has not yet been vetted by the market or internally by somebody within the company.

So you need to come in and have a very, very specific vision, a certain use case, the right unique selling points, and also have them adjusted towards that person. You need to understand what they’re asking for. Often they won’t tell you.

For example, people will send us requests through our contact form on the website and say, “Hey, we are really interested in this and this data.” And we ask, “Okay, can you share a specific use case? What do you need it for? Instead of showing you the whole powerhouse, we can show you exactly how to solve your problems.” They might then say, “Oh, I’m just looking around.” People have problems with articulating their actual problems. They often know that they have an issue that they want to cover, but sometimes they don’t want to share because “problems” sound bad. They already need solutions, even if they tell you problems don’t exist.

So then you have to approach it by thinking what a company of this sort would be interested in, on a much higher level. What are the key problems that they’re facing on a daily basis? Look at the position that company has, if they’re looking at multi-platform, or international or domestic, and you just have to work it out from that.

To recap, you need to have a very specific and narrow — like needle point — approach that you come in with to every single company, to every single meeting, to every single call. You have to have a plan, and you have to understand what you’re coming with. It’s not a shop they can browse around. You need to come in and say, “Hey, this is for you. You need to buy this.” Without obviously being that obvious.

And to get that first client, you of course didn’t have a case study yet. How did you get around that?

I had a sort of dummy page, where we initially put the most obvious analysis — like popularity. Title by title is the most obvious. We looked at other products and what they looked like, and tried to put similar but also better information in that sense. We were trying to get them interested. Then it was a game of following up and saying, “Look how much we’ve advanced. Look how much we’ve gone forward.”

A few years after we began working with our first client, I received feedback about what was that selling point. It was the fact that we had really, really gone forward.

We were not just waiting for somebody to come in and help us. Even though we didn’t have that initial customer who told us what we should do, it was more that we were still going forward, we were pushing, we were hustling basically.

— Łukasz Jeziorski

And they thought, “Okay, these guys are the real deal. They really want to do this, so let’s help them.” And that’s how we did it together.

How did you pick up your sales skills? Any books or workshops?

Neither. I was building a product and just wanted to build it with somebody. If I’m bringing a product to market, who is better than the market itself to help me build that product? It made it a lot easier because I had absolutely no idea about the industry.

There’s that approach to “eat your own dog food,” so like you use the products that you’re building. But I don’t really believe that’s the right approach because it’s much easier when you have absolutely no insight into the industry, you’re unbiased, and you really need to do the right research. You’re just learning the whole industry from scratch, and you really just want to bring that product to market for the market, rather than saying, “Yes, I’ll bring an e-sports product, and because I’m a gamer, I’ll do it like this.” Well, gaming companies look at it completely differently.

I actually recently took a course on MasterClass with Chris Voss, the FBI negotiator. It’s one of the best things I’ve seen in my life.

What’s one takeaway from that MasterClass?

I often jump into meeting rooms where I’m alone or there’s like two of us, and on the other side there’s 12, 15, 20 different people. There’s usually one or two people designated to run the conversation on their side, or to be responsible for the whole deal.

One of the things Chris mentioned only once is to look at the people who are not the ones designated to negotiate because they don’t remember to keep a straight face. If I’m negotiating with you, you want to keep a poker face as much as you can. But the people around you, they don’t really remember about it. They’re like bystanders, so they react emotionally, right?

So now if I shoot a number into the air, even if that person in front of me says, “Okay” or “That’s outrageous!” I can see the other faces because they know the ballpark number or the strategy of that whole meeting. I can see if I’m hitting the right mark or not. These people usually tell me a lot more just with their body language or facial expressions than the person who is speaking and running the whole conversation. It was worth it paying for the whole year of MasterClass just to have that one sentence out of it.


Lightning round

1. Last book you read: Who is Michael Ovitz?
2. Time you do your best work: At night
3. Fave tech newsletter: I don’t subscribe to any
4. Best dish you can make: Scrambled eggs
5. Worst advice you ever received: “People aren’t going to pay for it”*

*“If you look deeper, people will pay for everything. There is a market for everything. It’s just a matter of the size of the business you want to have.”