This is a follow up story for Xena Intelligence. If you're interested in reading how they got started, published about 4 years ago, check it out here.
Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.
Hello! My name is Akhil Nair, founder, and CEO of XENA Intelligence, a supersmart AI-powered eCommerce growth platform. XENA Dashboard is powered by a very powerful (insanely smart 🧠) AI engine that absorbs a gazillion data points from the Amazon marketplace to come up with the best pay-per-click (PPC) ad campaigns for an eCommerce store.
The mission I set out to accomplish is to help small and medium eCommerce sellers leverage the superhuman potential of AI to grow. It is delightful and humbling to see sellers benefiting from our solution. We are happy to have helped our clients achieve total yearly sales of $17.5 million from January 2022 to date. The Amazon sellers we’re helping have seen a 32% increase in sales and a 41% decrease in ad spending.
Cold outreach is like searching for a needle in a haystack. It is expensive and time-consuming. We’ve found that partnerships with other companies that provide various services to eCommerce sellers are far more efficient.
Tell us about what you’ve been up to. Has the business been growing?
I was always passionate about marketing and data analytics and so the world of eCommerce naturally beckoned me to its glorious potential. I started as a freelance marketing consultant for small businesses in and around my campus in Boston and soon realized a glaring pain point that small businesses were going through — the inability to effectively scale on eCommerce platforms like Amazon & Walmart. Ever since then, I have dedicated my life to building XENA and pushing it toward making it the best eCommerce growth platform in the world.
Since the beginning of the year 2022, our company has grown by more than 3X to $600K ARR with 25 customers and 20 employees.
Two most important steps that we used to increase traffic and sales:
1) Hiring a great team that’s passionate about building great things from scratch.
2) Test, test, and test — constantly try new things, evolve, iterate, learn from mistakes, and keep searching for what works.
We’ve been testing different marketing channels and measuring progress, and we’ve come to find out that explainer videos and podcasts work the best.
Cold outreach was a method we used for customer acquisition in the initial days. Even though the method gives results, the process is analogous to searching for a needle in a haystack. It is expensive and time-consuming. We’ve found that partnerships with other companies that provide various services to eCommerce sellers are far more efficient.
Giving our clients sincere personal attention is at the core of our way of doing business. This is exactly why at XENA our philosophy is to give maximum results to a small cohort of eCommerce businesses instead of giving mediocre results to a legion of clients. We make this happen by being with them through crests and troughs, offering our helping hand on their way to success.
XENA has been fortunate to have received multiple awards since it began its journey in 2021. Several mentions while winning awards such as Vogt Awards, Render Competition finalist, Top 21 startups of 2021 by Prepare4VC, etc. While these are certainly humbling, we have never lost sight of our goal and our resolve to scale the peak in front of us.
Your early team is critical for your growth. Only the best of the best can enable a startup to grow.
What have been your biggest challenges in the last year?
The one problem we’ve been trying to solve day in, and day out is finding the most efficient way to enable early-stage brands to compete effectively in a highly competitive eCommerce marketplace like Amazon & Walmart.
Imposter syndrome certainly does kick in when milestones are achieved and when the real value is created. I believe the greatest obstacle to the growth of an entrepreneur is not the funding, not the product, not the team, but themselves. Managing one’s thoughts and mastering emotions to find the perfect balance is a process that takes years to achieve.
What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?
The biggest learning that dawned on me is that your early team is critical for your growth. Only the best of the best can enable a startup to grow. Therefore, it is crucial that you wisely choose the people who are going to build for you.
Another experiment that turned out to be game-changing was signing up for strategic partnerships with other great companies operating in the eCommerce space. Through the partnerships, we could pool our knowledge and resources, to help eCommerce sellers with a higher impact. Partnerships are making customer acquisition faster and easier.
“Over the long term, the e-commerce market has plenty of room to grow and could increase from $3.3 trillion today to $5.4 trillion in 2026.” (Morgan Stanley)
The pandemic was a black swan event, and it altered the average consumer behavior. More people are coming into eCommerce, both to sell and buy. The projections indicate that the best time to ride the eCommerce wave is now.
Product development, team management, and time management are the three most important lessons I learned while building XENA.
In my opinion, meditation and journaling are two habits that will help an entrepreneur keep his mind razor-sharp and organized. I practice both and the result is visible in my everyday life. Meditation helps you relax. Once you’re relaxed, your thoughts and decisions will be more coherent. Similarly, journaling allows you to retrospect the evolution of your thought process every once in a while and keeps your thoughts organized.
What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?
We are currently formulating methods to prepare for heavy customer acquisition and we are perfecting our AI-powered dashboard every day.
I envision building XENA into the best eCommerce growth platform in the world, empowering eCommerce sellers across the globe, and ultimately becoming a market leader. My 5-year plan is to help as many small businesses thrive on Amazon and Walmart.
My short-term goal is to develop my team and get them ready to make XENA the greatest eCommerce growth platform ever.
What’s the best thing you read in the last year?
The Autobiography of Indra Nooyi is a great memoir by the trailblazing former CEO of PepsiCo.
For a dozen years as one of the world’s most admired CEOs, Indra Nooyi redefined what it means to be an exceptional leader. The first woman of color and immigrant to run a Fortune 50 company — and one of the foremost strategic thinkers of our time — she transformed PepsiCo with a unique vision, a vigorous pursuit of excellence, and a deep sense of purpose. I learned a lot by reading the book.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?
“Resiliency is key — if you don’t trust in yourself, nobody will.”
Every young entrepreneur must be aware of the concept of sunk cost fallacy. The sunk cost fallacy is our tendency to continue with something we’ve invested money, effort, or time into — even if the current costs outweigh the benefits. When we fall prey to the sunk cost fallacy, we make irrational decisions that are in our best interest — essentially digging ourselves into a deeper and deeper hole. You should always be adaptable and ready to change if you want to succeed.
“Happiness can be found in the darkest of times, only if one remembers to turn on the lights” — Albus Dumbledore
Where can we go to learn more?
If you want to learn more about XENA and how it works, the best places are:
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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