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We're pleased to announce that Abstrakt is one of the two winners of our eighth Startup Showdown pitch competition designed to showcase and fund early-stage tech companies. Startup Showdown 2022 kicked off with an in-person event at Atlanta Buckhead Theatre on March 2. It was a full house for the pitch competition that had the feel of an exciting, exclusive party — only a party that is meant for everyone.
Abstrakt, real-time call coaching software for sales teams, earned a $120,000 investment prize. To learn more about Abstrakt and its experience in the pitch competition, we interviewed its CEO, Greg Reffner.
Steve Jobs famously said, "You can't connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect them looking backward. So, you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future." I really believe that applies to me and what eventually led me to found Abstrakt.
I began my career eight years ago as a software sales development rep before moving into an account executive role and then had an opportunity to lead sales teams. During this time, I remember the pain points I felt in the job. As I look at what I'm doing now, I believe Abstrakt's real-time sales coaching capabilities had its genesis in that frustration.
While I was working in software sales, conversational intelligence tools were entering the market and I was an early adopter. But the solutions were and still are largely reactive, meaning they're more about recording and analyzing the rep's call so they can receive instruction after the conversation has occurred. In other words, they don't have capabilities to coach the rep in real time while the phone conversation is taking place, at a time when reps need support the most. As you probably know, if a rep fails to provide the right response, the opportunity with the customer is likely lost.
This is a huge market gap and is something Abstrakt is working to fill. Utilizing natural language processing algorithms and speech-to-text technology, Abstrakt works from the call's audio file to prompt the rep on what to say while in dialog with the customer or prospect. Prompts appear on-screen in about 0.2 seconds in response to what's being said — fast enough to keep conversation flowing naturally. While there are some others that provide real-time sales coaching solutions, they're mostly designed for call centers. Abstrakt is the only solution designed for in-house sales teams.
Abstrakt works across any videoconferencing and phone-dialer computer technology, without requiring integrations. Customers can easily configure the system in terms of what to listen for and how to respond, run a couple of quick tests, and are typically up and running well within the first week post-implementation.
I was introduced to Dustin Drees and Paraj Mathur by an industry peer. They told me about the competition and suggested Abstrakt apply. Interestingly, we've participated twice — the first time at a virtual Startup Showdown event in May of last year. That time, we didn't make it past the semifinalist stage. I spoke with Dustin and Paraj afterward, and they told me that if Abstrakt could get some more traction, they might be interested in taking another look down the road. At that time, our product was still a little unstable and while we had beta users, we didn't yet have paying customers to prove that we could generate sales. We took this conversation to heart and really worked on our progression.
Feeling that we were closer, I applied to Startup Showdown again and Abstrakt was invited back — this time for the in-person event this month in Atlanta. Things went much better the second time around.
As far as the experience goes, while the prize money is awesome, getting to engage with the different mentors was invaluable. I had some one-on-one time with Paul Judge in particular, whose feedback inspired me to basically change my entire presentation, I believe for the better. Up until this point, Abstrakt has mostly been angel-funded, which is great. But getting a stamp of approval from an institutional VC firm like BIP Ventures feels like a real validation of our potential and a milestone achievement.
Some great advice I received is to think of your pitch as not just a business presentation but a performance. Regardless of whether your presentation is virtual or in person, find a way to entertain and engage the judges and audience while delivering your story in a way that gets them to buy into your vision.
We'd been planning to hire a VP of engineering a few months from now, but the capital will enable us to accelerate that timeline significantly. We'll also invest in additional marketing.
I can't lie — I was terrified of doing a pitch on stage — but I really worked to incorporate those concepts. The result was worth it.
Startup Showdown is held monthly, with five finalists competing to win $120,000 investment prize. Apply to pitch at an upcoming Startup Showdown.