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A former Salesforce AI exec explains how chatbot startup Drift poached him to become its first chief product officer

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Leo Tenenblat Drift

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Conversational marketing and sales firm Drift has poached former Salesforce AI product executive Leo Tenenblat to be its first ever chief product officer, as the pandemic has boosted the need for tools that make it easier for salespeople to do their jobs digitally. 

Drift makes a chatbot app that companies can embed onto their websites to interact with potential customers, thus helping convert web traffic into sales meetings. It uses artificial intelligence technology to make conversations with its bot feel more natural and to analyze successful chats to better reel in future customers, though once someone expresses interest, they will be connected to an actual human through the platform. Drift ultimately aims to make its AI capable of analyzing vast databases of conversations to steer customers' business decisions.

As the company's product grows in popularity and attracts larger enterprise customers, Tenenblat is part of its plan to scale. Tenenblat previously ran Salesforce's AI chat product Einstein for over four years as VP of product management, and said he was persuaded to join Drift because its growth impressed him and he saw the chance to help create something innovative, especially as the pandemic has changed the market for sales and marketing software. 

"The opportunity that they had tapped into was just phenomenal," Tenenblat told Business Insider. "And it tied into something that I have done quite well over the last few years, which is AI."  

Drift chatbot

Managing Einstein was actually his second stint at Salesforce: He previously spent six years there in sales strategy and managing its analytics product line before leaving in 2012 to create a startup called AppMesh, which aimed to personalize sales software. AppMesh ultimately failed and Tenenblat rejoined Salesforce in 2016. Another part of the appeal of joining Drift, he said, is taking on a more entrepreneurial role. 

"Drift is doing some innovative things around conversations in particular and so I'm excited to take that to the next level," Tenenblat said. "At the same time I can apply some of the things I already know about scaling things and using AI in different ways across the board and taking that to the enterprise."

David Cancel Drift

Drift's CEO David Cancel said bringing Tenenblat on board is key to the company's next phase of growth. Drift originally geared its products towards small businesses, where Cancel and his cofounder have experience, but it hopes to expand to more enterprise customers, where Tenenblat has expertise. In 2020, half the company's revenue came from enterprise organizations, though it declined to share specific revenue metrics, and it counts Box, Adobe, Tenable, Zenefits, and PTC among its customer base. It has particular traction in industries like financial services, industrial, telecommunications, healthcare and education markets, it said in a recent blog post

In November 2020, Drift earned a spot on Deloitte's Technology Fast 500 list, which was compiled based on revenue growth from 2016 to 2019. Drift experienced 35,475% revenue growth during this time period, ranking it as having the sixth fastest growth.

Drift currently has 400 employees across the US in Boston, San Francisco, and Tampa, among others, and plans to increase its number of workers in Australia and Europe this year as well, Cancel said. Because of the pandemic, it's making all its employees remote by default, but keeping its office spaces, too, to host meetings and collaborative work once it's safe again.

Long term, Cancel's vision is that Drift will replace traditional customer relationship management products like Salesforce or Hubspot, where Cancel used to be chief product officer. With everything digital, a static CRM system that serves as a database or digital Rolodex isn't what people need, he said. 

"We now live in a world where you can capture all the conversations, you can build a conversational database, you can use machine learning to make inferences on that," Cancel said. "You can build a whole new source of intelligence and so that's been behind what we're doing and will be the future of what we're doing."

Got a tip? Contact this reporter via email at pzaveri@businessinsider.com or Signal at 925-364-4258. (PR pitches by email only, please.) You can also contact Business Insider securely via SecureDrop.

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