Podkast
Lio Slama

What it takes to be successful in the SaaS world

The type of people who are successful in a startup like to take initiative. It doesn’t matter if you’ve worked for a “big named” company or if you’re straight out of college. The question you need to ask yourself is “Are you willing to take a risk but also take responsibility?”

Intrigued? Lio Slama, CEO & Co-Founder at AskNeo, joined us on The Startup Sidekick podcast to talk all about startup life and how to be successful.

P.S. If you sold anything while growing up – chocolate bars, coupon cards, etc. the startup life might be for you!

Listen on Apple Podcasts

[00:00:00] Lio Slama: Welcome to the Startup Sidekick Podcast, where we like to talk to those unsung heroes, the Robin to the Batman, those early-stage employees at startups who are in the trenches every

[00:00:16] Clare Dobson: day.

[00:00:30] Hello everyone. I am Claire Dobson. We have another amazing guest today on the Startup Side Gig podcast. We are interviewing the CEO and founder of Asked Mio, but before that, he was in the trenches as employee number two and then decided to start his own thing. So we’re gonna learn all about Leo Salma.

[00:00:52] So everybody please welcome him to the Startup Side Kit podcast. Hey Leo, how are you?

[00:00:59] I’m good. How are you? I’m doing great.

[00:01:02] So let’s talk about, let’s get to know you a little bit besides, you know, looking at your LinkedIn. I see you went from architect to co-founder to CEO and founder. You’ve kind of been all over the place.

[00:01:14] What, what’s something we might not find about you on your linked.

[00:01:19] Lio Slama: You’re right. You know, I was an architect. I was actually the head architect for the International Labor Organization in Switzerland. Uh, managing, uh, the design, the architecture, and the engineering as well. I was a $300 million project. Um, and, um, I’m a painter as well.

[00:01:35] I do mostly abstract expressionism. I do at least one exhibition a year, a year. And uh, when I do an exhibition, I. Everyone I know, all my friends, uh, all the people I’m not friend with as well. It’s just a great moment to, uh, to show my art and, and talk. And then, um, yeah, I’ve been building, uh, text startups since a few years now.

[00:01:57] Um, and I came to realize that whether it’s through a building, a painting, or a software, it’s all about creating amazing experiences for people. Uh, and that’s what’s important to me. So, um, that’s, uh, that’s. . That’s

[00:02:14] Clare Dobson: awesome. So how long have you been painting? Has it been around your whole life or did you pick it up at some.

[00:02:20] Lio Slama: Uh, my whole life I’ve been dating since I’m four years old. Uh, so yeah, , that’s been a while.

[00:02:25] Clare Dobson: Well, we’ll, we’ll have a separate side conversation on that and how to go abuse over your paintings. That’s awesome. Well, let’s start talking about, so you, when you first started thinking about joining a startup, what was going through your mind?

[00:02:41] Is that something you always wanted or did someone have to commit to you?

[00:02:46] Lio Slama: Right. So, . What happened is that I managed the, the International Labor Organization renovation for about two years in Switzerland, and I decided to leave after the design phase. Um, and the project was a huge success. The, uh, the clients or the International Labor Organization part of the un, uh, decided to, um, to really build, uh, most of the recommendation we gave.

[00:03:15] Um, it’s always an negotiation cuz we, there’s, there’s a huge budget, but, uh, it’s a public project, you know, from more than 180 countries. So there was a very complex project there and I, I say I manage the engineering. Um, it’s civil engineering, mechanical engineering vac, so the ventilation, security and safety, uh, you know, against fire, but against terrorist attacks as well.

[00:03:42] And so I was really, really making sure that the design I wanted and um, the, the vision I wanted to accomplish for the ilo, which was all about transparency by the way, cuz I had a few, uh, scandals about labor themselves at the headquarters. Um, Wow. Uh, was, you know, the design was getting achieved. And for that, I always say, you need to please the engineers.

[00:04:06] Okay? Because engineers, they’re gonna compete with each other once, wants to put, uh, a huge door against fire. But you want to put transparency there. And then, uh, the mechanical want to put some pipe there, but like you have to, so you have to control the design. If you control the engineering, then you can control the.

[00:04:22] And so after I left the, the project, um, I was actually about to come back to America and a few engineers I work with, um, literally like, uh, call me the same day and say, Hey, let’s have lunch tomorrow. And um, I was like, Okay, fine. And, uh, everybody was like, You know, super excited. And so one of them, I, he became a good friend.

[00:04:48] He was like, Let’s, let’s build a startup together. And he was one of the safety engineer, uh, for fire and tourist attacks and all this stuff like that. So that was really sensitive topics. Um, but, uh, and uh, so you have to trust people when you worked on that. Yeah. And so I was like, Okay, what, what do you have in mind?

[00:05:08] And. . And so that’s how Z print, uh, started. Actually, he, um, you know, he had this idea of, uh, simplifying floor plans for, um, different types of companies and organizations. And back in the day I was also, you know, I was not just managing the project, I was actually working on a computer with my team, uh, on actually showing like designs and flow plans that everybody can understand.

[00:05:36] The client, the engineers, et cetera. So, so that’s how it started basically. I, I had no idea. I was studying, I was employee number two. I was no idea we were studying a startup. We just started a business out of, you’re just like, let’s go.

[00:05:51] Clare Dobson: Yeah, let’s it, let’s go. Was there any risk at the time? Were, are you just all in ready to, You’re like, I believe in this, let’s do it.

[00:06:00] Lio Slama: I truly believe in this and also that is right my alley and also, I was, um, super happy to continue working with, uh, someone who became my friend. Like I was working with him like every week on certain topics. Very, very complex topics. And, uh, and so when you work with people, it’s all about the vibe. It’s all about, you know, am I gonna be happy to, to work with them, uh, to spend time with them.

[00:06:26] Cause especially at the beginning and you spend like your life with them, uh, and um, . And so that was, of course there is always risk. Uh, I really wanted to come back to America, but as a result, I stayed one more year in Switzerland because of that. Um, and uh, yeah, I was just happy to, to.

[00:06:44] Clare Dobson: Yeah. Do you, do you think getting into business, I think people have two sides of it, right?

[00:06:49] You have the, the co-founders, the founders who know each other, and then they decide to go into business together, and then you have someone who has an idea and they go searching for someone and they might not be a friend. Do you think there’s a, there’s obviously the. I think comfortableness with each other.

[00:07:07] But do you think there could also be some negative of possibly affecting relationships with friends going into business?

[00:07:15] Lio Slama: Yeah, I mean, you know, both are possible. There’s these, um, there are horror stories for both us, so, you know, we’re not, we’re not gonna get into that. But, um, um, the, the engineer, uh, I work with in Switzerland and.

[00:07:31] We had the very professional relationships from the start. Mm-hmm. , Um, we were not friends from before, so I met him Okay. Through the ILO project, uh, the, a architecture project. And so, um, so, but afterwards when I came back to America, I, I knew no one, I knew absolutely no one in New York. And, um, I also looked for people to work with, like potential co-founders.

[00:07:58] Um, and so you become friend and, uh, but you know, the, the emotion the personal component, the emotional component, um, like get away from it. Like as much as you can. Uh, you have to respect people. You have to understand who they are and what they want. And, but you’re gonna get, is getting very personal after just a few weeks, a month because you spend so much time with those people, you know, potential co-founders or as in pre number two as well, like.

[00:08:28] Uh, employee number two is, uh, is almost a co-founder, uh, depending on the stage of the company. So, um, I learned, uh, there’s been a few years now, but I really learned how to get the emotions out. Uh, and really I think one good way to do that, especially for me, is, hey, if it’s not the right fit anymore for me or for them, it’s okay.

[00:08:55] You know, uh, it’s totally fine if they want to do something else or if you wanna do something else, it’s fine. And I think that’s one of the huge mistakes that must, uh, bigger brands, bigger companies do today. They want to keep the employees at all cost, and they, they don’t, they don’t encourage them to, to build their own path.

[00:09:15] Um, it’s like, why not? Like, okay. Of course it costs a lot to hire more new people, uh, keeping them. But like, uh, you know, if they’re happy joining the company, you have to make sure they’re happy when they leave the company as well. And so that’s what I learned when I left, uh, the ILO project, for example, or when I left Z Print because I wanted to come back to America so bad.

[00:09:42] Switzerland is an amazing country. Don’t get me. Yeah, but I grew up nearby in France, like it, it wasn’t as excited for me except the chocolate, which is absolutely insane there. And I go back to Switzerland for my friends and for the chocolate, by the way, , but, But besides that, like I wanted to come back to New York, you know?

[00:10:00] Yeah.

[00:10:01] Clare Dobson: New York over chocolate, you know, .

[00:10:04] Lio Slama: Yeah. That’s awesome. Yeah. That was, that’s a hard choice, .

[00:10:08] Clare Dobson: That’s just, it’s very interesting you talk about that. If we go into this, that’s thinking about from, um, like hiring standpoint, but also allowing your people to go like, Do you think there’s a certain quality that needs to be had for people joining a startup do or personality type?

[00:10:30] Lio Slama: Yes, absolutely. Um, I hire a lot of people, mostly interns right now, uh, cause we still are, uh, you know, Boost, Trap startup, um, raise money. We’re raising money again. But, um, I hire a ton of interns and um, and it’s interesting because. Um, I’m looking for a particular type of people who are entrepreneurial.

[00:10:52] It doesn’t mean they are entrepreneurs or they build a startup before, but they are entrepreneurial. The type of people who, for example, if they’re fresh, fresh out of college, or if they’re still in college, Um, they are taking initiative to build certain tools or services for their university or for their friends, or they started to sell, uh, chocolate bars at, uh, nine years old.

[00:11:15] Uh, this type of stuff. And, you know, anybody can do that. But when they put that on their resume, it means that they understand the value. Because a lot of people try to show like they are reliable. They had amazing internships at government sites and stuff and it’s like, yeah, I’m not looking for that. I’m looking for did you sell sold chocolate bars?

[00:11:37] You know, See it’s always about chocolate. Did you sell, Did you sell chocolate bars when you were nine years old? When you were nine years old to your friends? Uh, cuz I’m interested in that. Why did you do that? Like what type of personality you have to do that? .

[00:11:50] Clare Dobson: Okay. Yeah, that’s interesting. And I think there’s so much, I mean, you learn, you don’t realize you’re doing it at that time, but I think knowing people who take responsibility, who want to work on that ne next project, they almost get bored doing the same thing every day.

[00:12:06] Like you don’t always know where your fit is, but it’s there is a fit for you. And like that’s what you’re talking about. That’s how you get into the entrepreneurial kind of mindset. .

[00:12:17] Lio Slama: You know, most entrepreneurs won’t tell you because they don’t even think about it. Not because they don’t wanna say, but the number one reason why entrepreneurs are entrepreneurs is because they cannot deal with hierarchy.

[00:12:31] They cannot have a boss. Oh, okay. I was unable to have a boss hours not fit to have a bus. It was very difficult for me to find jobs by the. Mm. Um, I found a job in New York. I find a job in Switzerland, so that’s actually ironic. I never found a job in France where I grew up because I was, uh, people were scared of me, of my personality.

[00:12:51] Like, and you see that on, on my resume, like, um, and so most entrepreneurs cannot have a boss. They don’t want to have a boss. Uh, and that’s something most people won’t tell you, but that’s the truth.

[00:13:03] Clare Dobson: Yeah, it’s very true. I, I mean, you’re describing my husband perfectly, so , that’s exactly it. How he is. Yeah.

[00:13:10] It’s, And it, you don’t realize, but I think a lot of people might not realize that. And that’s where the opportunity lays and they just, they kind of need some, some guidance behind there. Let’s transition a little bit and talk about the startup life and being on the ground for, you know, you go days and days, even maybe months of like no wins, like you’re just getting kicked in the teeth.

[00:13:33] It’s not always fun. How do you, what motivates you or how do you deal with that knowing that there might be a win? It might just be weeks.

[00:13:49] Lio Slama: When I started my entrepreneurial journey, I think I knew what I was doing a little bit. But, uh, every, every three, six months you realized like how ignorant you were. Yeah. And that’s, uh, that’s crazy, but that’s also very encouraging. Um, and so at the beginning, I, I really did all the mistakes I could. I was very emotional, , uh, like years ago.

[00:14:15] I was very emotional. I was, uh, I was convinced that you build a product and then people will come. , Um, I believe in, uh, product led growth, but that’s, that’s different. Like, uh, you know, it’s, you do that when you have customers. Um, and um, so I did all the mistakes possible and, um, and I’m mentoring a ton of startup now through the Columbia Startup Lab, for example, of friends on those first stages.

[00:14:40] Like, uh, how you actually start, uh, MVP getting first customers. Thinking about your pricing model, et cetera, and, and hiring and how much equity or salary you give up or you give away, uh, to begin with and this type of stuff. And, um, because I did all those mistakes. Um, so you, the important thing is you do the mistake once, not twice.

[00:15:01] Um, Yeah. And, um, and so it’s important to look back two, three months all the time because you might think like you’re not, uh, actually, um, , you know, progressing as much or things are slower than, than you would like them to be, which is always the case when you build a startup before Series A at least. And this is when you look back, two, three months, you’re like, Oh, we gain new customers.

[00:15:29] We, we have more on our wait list now. We actually made more money. Uh, we actually on the process of hiring, uh, more people now, um, we’re talking to these investors now, et cetera, et cetera. So we understood. You know, this type of customer need this type of feature. So that’s, that’s next on our roadmap. And so things actually evolve, um, faster than you think.

[00:15:54] Hmm.

[00:15:55] Clare Dobson: It’s, it’s interesting you say that. I mean, I feel like in it right now, I, I mean, I just joined abstract about, oh, just over nine months ago. And the first three months felt like I did nothing like it. Everything was the same. But when you look back on it, you’re like, Okay, yeah, I did progress a little bit or I did do this, but it just, sometimes it feels like all the work is going towards nothing and then all of a sudden you realize it.

[00:16:23] So I think that is important that you look back and you, and you see the growth. Cuz sometimes in the day to day it might get overwhelming in that sense

[00:16:32] Lio Slama: too. Yeah, I think before you get paid customers, that’s a feeling that can really, uh, be there. It takes time to build a product. It takes time to get first customers, et cetera.

[00:16:43] But at the same time, when you start having paid customers, that’s where the real game starts. So I advise people to, uh, deploy the product even if it’s a small mvp as soon as possible. Um, again, I did the mistake in the past in one of my first startup. To just spend, uh, months or even years actually on, uh, business, like on theoretical stuff like business plan, financial model, uh, building an MVP as well at the same time.

[00:17:14] Yeah. But very slowly. Um, and not putting it in the hands of potential customers. And when we started putting it in the hands of potential customers, all of a sudden , we understood what we had to do next. Uh, so, um, but it keeps happening because. People, you know, want to be ready, be ready for what you, you never ready, like just ship your new feature, ship your new update, ship it as soon as possible, and, and you learn from.

[00:17:44] Yeah, there will

[00:17:44] Clare Dobson: always be things to improve on, so it’ll never be perfect. Right? Yeah, exactly. That’s, uh, that’s definitely difficult. I think for some people they get over, but I, I think there needs to be that fine balance. Do you, do you see, like when you’re hiring and you know, for your companies and the companies you’ve been a part of, do you see that are personalities are similar or do you think there, there’s, when you’re looking, let’s say for someone looking to join a startup, , Is it okay if they don’t maybe believe or under or agree with everything that that person is saying?

[00:18:18] Is that an okay thing or do you need to think you align perfectly?

[00:18:23] Lio Slama: Okay. There are two very different questions in your question. Do they believe or do they agree? Do they believe yes, They have to be believe in our mission. Uh, for sure. Do they agree, uh, with, you know, the day to day or if they agree with everything?

[00:18:39] Um, That’s a huge problem for me because we are a really small team, uh, with interns. We are, we are never more than 10 people, so I absolutely need people, including interns, to tell me what’s wrong or what they see. You know, if, if something is not really like, seems to be wrong or seems that we can improve it, we probably can improve it.

[00:19:03] And, uh, if an intern that’s just 18 or 19, uh, is not. Uh, willing or not comfortable talking? That’s a problem. I, um, okay. And so all the, the employees are of course, my co-founder. But, but to the interns from the start, I pick them because they see the entrepreneurial and they, they don’t hesitate to speak out.

[00:19:26] And it works like, uh, from the start, the, sometimes they do stuff that I haven’t asked them to do or they do something differently, and that’s, that’s perfect because they are the one. Who actually, uh, well, I, I’m not gonna reveal what they exactly do, but whether they take care of product, engineering, growth, uh, sales, they are the ones on the ground.

[00:19:48] And so, um, uh, you know, it’s, um, it’s bottom up. It’s like, what do you know? They, they, they don’t have to ask me permission. To do, to try another type of outreach. They don’t have to ask me permission to prioritize another type of update for the, uh, products, for example, because if, if they do, it slows down everyone.

[00:20:10] And also, that’s not what we have to do. Like, uh, they know better than me certain areas, like they, they’re there, you know?

[00:20:17] Clare Dobson: Yep. No, exactly. Yeah. You don’t wanna bottleneck, you wanna, That’s, so it’s like you have to have some. Ability to, you have to realize you’re responsible for a lot when you are joining the startup, but you can’t be afraid to make a decision or try something different.

[00:20:35] Um, you can’t always wait for the ceo, the co-founder, someone to give you that permission.

[00:20:41] Lio Slama: Yeah, it’s, um, it’s super important really. So when

[00:20:46] Clare Dobson: you, when we’re talking about, I mean, you’ve kind of been all over the place, like what motivates you besides the hierarchy and not, you know, being able to find your spot?

[00:20:55] Like, what motivates you to keep going and come up with these ideas and start new companies?

[00:21:02] Lio Slama: So I don’t start new companies every day. Um, you know, it’s, um, it’s really about the customers. Uh, right now with for example, we are getting more and more customers. Uh, we have a long wait list because I’m raising money now to onboard the wait list cuz we, as I say, we very, very small team.

[00:21:25] Mm-hmm. . And, um, when I see all those companies, all those brands that have the same issues, that complain about the same problems and come to asking you to solve them. and then they tell us like, they’re so happy with us. They’re like, Okay. We’ve never seen something like that before. We’ve tried many, many, uh, a few competitors or other solutions.

[00:21:46] That’s, that’s what, uh, motivates you. Uh, honestly, um, I always say I haven’t invented anything. , Uh, the customers, the people of the users invented everything. I talk to customers every day by texting because we’re all about texting or on Zoom, um, to understand the experience their, what they would like to see next.

[00:22:11] Uh, we make our customers vote on the next features. Um, so if we have two or three features we wanna build next, we make them vote for that, uh, for example. And, um, and so it’s all about creating an amazing experience for them. Um,

[00:22:29] Clare Dobson: Yeah. That’s very interesting. I I, I’ve never really, I mean, everybody says that, but I, I’ve never heard it in that way of really your customers or what’s driving the innovation because they’re bringing the problems to you and you’re just finding ways to solve it.

[00:22:46] That’s, that’s incredible.

[00:22:47] Lio Slama: That’s very cool. We new, we really product led growth. Um, I do not believe in, uh, ads. , like social media ads or scm? I am against it completely. Um, I’ve said it before and I will say it again. I’m a big propent of content, organic content. So we, you know, we have a blog, we have videos, podcasts as well.

[00:23:12] Um, and, uh, people find us like this organically through ratio and uh, and when they find her, they’re like, Wow, that’s what I need. That’s exactly what I need. Um, and so product led growth. It’s really about, uh, it’s not just about the features you build or, um, how much more ROI or repeat sales you help your customers get.

[00:23:36] That’s one thing. It’s how you make them feel. Uh, and uh, I don’t think an ad is gonna cut it, you know, uh, on the country. I think it’s very, something organic is better.

[00:23:48] Clare Dobson: Yeah, it’s definitely very hard to put. Uh, what you’re trying to do, or you know, the problems that you solve into an ad. And I think that’s where, I mean, every million dollar question is, you know, how, how do we get more customers, you know?

[00:24:03] And everybody’s trying different things and seeing what works, but it’s truly the product that speaks for itself and the customers that drive that innovation. So that’s very, totally talking. Let’s, let’s go to the misconception side. Is there anything that you’ve noticed or seen, and maybe this, I mean this kind of has to do with like the ad side of it.

[00:24:24] Is there any misconceptions when joining a startup? Or are you getting any interns that are like, Oh yeah, this is what it’s gonna be like and it’s not like that at all?

[00:24:33] Lio Slama: Yeah, totally. Um, most of our interns want to continue after their internship. , uh, even if we cannot necessarily hire them because they’re still in at school or they wanna continue, uh, because they’re learning so much and because, you know, I make sure that, uh, uh, there’s a great vibe and, and, uh, and we have fun as well, uh, all the time.

[00:24:56] Um, the thing is, uh, maybe it comes back to hiring people. I, I mentor people as well on, on their lives, and I hear this dichotomy all the time. Oh, I’m hesitating between going to work for a VC or going to work for early stage startup being Seed of series A, by the way, not like B or C. Yeah. And when I heard that the first times, I was a bit surprised, but now I, I know exactly what it means.

[00:25:27] So I tell those people, what is the VC and what is the early stage startup like? It. It’s like telling me like you’re hesitating between becoming an architect and becoming a construction worker. Like it’s two different things. Yeah. You might work on the same building for sure. Mm-hmm. , it’s really, really, really not the same at all.

[00:25:52] Like the, the skills or the experience or the vibe or it’s really not the same. And, um, And I tr and I explain that to them. And, uh, usually it’s because, you know, they, they want to become consultants. They don’t wanna do a startup or work in an early stage startup. So I advise them to be consultants to go work for VC or a bank, and that’s great.

[00:26:14] I think that’s great. But, um, but you know, usually, uh, when you see entrepreneurs who become vc, I, I like to talk to those VCs. I really like that. Uh, when you see VCs that try to become entrepreneurs, and we’ve seen that in the. Uh, and they’re very public about it. They’re after six months or a year, usually they, they tweet something like, I just realize how difficult it was.

[00:26:39] Uh, and, and usually they, they fail. Like, uh, I’m sure there are counter examples. I don’t have any in mind, but like this two different things. Like it’s not the same job, right? Like it’s, it’s very.

[00:26:51] Clare Dobson: Uh, yeah, that’s very true. And I think, you know, it’s, it’s, from my perspective, it’s hard to explain sometimes how hard it really is.

[00:27:00] Like, it, it doesn’t, it’s not that it’s just hard work. It’s like the, you’re trying to think of something, you’re trying to do something better. You’re trying to produce this amazing product, like you want it so bad, but it’s not. There, like the outcome just doesn’t come tomorrow. If you want it more than the other person, it takes time.

[00:27:21] And I think that’s very hard to explain to people who are looking to join a startup who maybe never been a part of it. Um, is, is trying to explain that. But it’s interesting the VC startup side too,

[00:27:35] Lio Slama: that’s, that’s really something that I’ve seen in the past. So the investors I’m looking for usually are investors who can add.

[00:27:43] Um, yeah. Uh, you know, they can help with like a financial strategy or business model or making some key intros, um, this type of stuff. Whatever you need. Um, this should be helpful. It’s not like you’re gonna speak like every week or every day, but, uh, or maybe actually it, some thiss actually do that. I, I heard that.

[00:28:03] So, um, so somehow it can be an extension of your company. Um, and, uh, all the investors we have so far, Techstars and Azure investors, , they’ve been very much an extension of the company, uh, when we need them. Uh, and so that’s, that’s what you want. That’s what you need. They’re not gonna build your company on your behalf.

[00:28:23] Again, that’s two different jobs. But when you have a questions or a question on you, you need feedback on something. Um, they have, I, I felt like they, I saw that they have usually a certain, um, view of the market. That you don’t because you’re in the trenches building your company and they do. They might know better than you how to disrupt the market sometimes.

[00:28:49] Uh, we got some ideas from some of our investors. To get ahead of the curve that, uh, you know, uh, move the needle and I, I wouldn’t think of, of this type of stuff. So, uh, so yeah. That’s, that’s

[00:29:03] Clare Dobson: interesting. That’s very good. And it’s, it’s a good perspective, I think too for people who maybe aren’t too sure about the VC space versus startup space.

[00:29:11] Like that’s a really good way to. articulate both sides of it and how they both play a big impact and you’re working on the same building, but it’s different perspectives for sure.

[00:29:21] Lio Slama: If you hesitate between working for a VC or a startup, uh, usually I recommend go work for a vc and you will be able to help startups there.

[00:29:30] Uh, if you, even if you never build a startup before or it’s not really about that, again, it’s two different roles. You can very much help a startup by being a vc, whether you have experience in entrepreneurship or not. And there are VCs or, uh, the investors where the current investors or future investors who are helping us today, uh, and they never build a, a before, but they’re very helpful so,

[00:29:56] Clare Dobson: Oh, that’s great knowledge.

[00:29:57] What, what advice would you give to someone who’s, you know, either looking to possibly interns, so possible interns looking to come, um, to ask ne or someone looking to join a startup they have opportunity is, let’s say, VP of marketing or to customer success. What advice would you give that person?

[00:30:20] Lio Slama: Um,

[00:30:25] It’s not as glamorous as it seems. It’s uh, very intense and you have to be super flexible. Um, it’s funny cuz we, we have some interns, we had some interns that intern at as new and then the following summer or the following semester, they went to Goldman. And when after the internship at Goldman Sachs, I asked them like, So, so how was it?

[00:30:53] Was it more intense? As intense? And they were like, they were like, Well, that was as intense at as Neil, but it’s, it’s different. And I was like, Why is it different? Like you were so much looking forward to work for, you know, Goldman Sachs, like any like. Big financial bank or as a consultant. And, and they were like, Yeah, but we do the same thing every day.

[00:31:18] And there is huge hierarchy. Like we, like, we like among slaves, you know, and after two or three months we just, we just don’t know how to think anymore. And so what I say is that, uh, in a startup, especially as Neil, it’s, it’s different. It’s like, it’s very intense. It’s the same amount of work, but you are independent.

[00:31:41] You don’t do the same thing every day cuz things evolve so fast. You learn to turn every day. I start with necessarily a repetitive task and you learn how to think for yourself and for the company. You get responsibility. So it’s really, and that’s why I’m saying like working for a startup or in a startup, especially at early stage, uh, and working as a consultant, whether finance or leasing or private equity, it’s really, uh, Two completely different things.

[00:32:12] Um, and, uh, and, but you have to experience it to understand it. Uh, and uh, I like asking them after the, the internship, like, uh, so how was it, you know? And, and uh, and then they, they really understand. But that’s good. They have both experiences now. They can compare. They can, you know, see

[00:32:32] Clare Dobson: for the. Do you, Do you think working for a startup is, or working with a founder, like even yourself, do you think that’s a difficult task for a lot of people who join a startup?

[00:32:45] Like in terms of like you’re, you might not have the same, well you don’t have the same equity, you don’t have that ownership. You might get a little bit, but it’s not the same, but you have to put in just as much work. Like, do you think people struggle with that at all?

[00:33:00] Lio Slama: Um, , let’s go back to, to my role at the International Labor Organization in Switzerland.

[00:33:06] Yeah. I had a team of, I don’t know, about 20 people between architects and engineers. And um, and for me, I was very young. I was 25 years old. Yeah. Uh, I was really, really young when I got into this role and, uh, and everyone was older than me and, uh, by the way, I got insulted. Uh, I never revealed that to anyone, but I got insulted a few times by some people at the beginning.

[00:33:30] Uh, like, you know, , like, uh, cause you’re so five, like, and you’re gonna become like, they’re the head of their architecture and engineering, like, you know. Um, so I had to convince I had to prove myself mm-hmm. , uh, and fair enough, I had to prove myself and I very much did. Um, and then the, you know, everyone respected my work.

[00:33:53] Uh, but, um, what I’m trying to say here is, Most people there did not have the ambition ahead. I always think that people have the same ambition as I have, um, to, um, to build, you know, my own processes, my own companies, my own, um, teams. Uh, but that’s under truth must, and I understood that very recently actually.

[00:34:19] Most people. do not want to be the boss or to have more responsibility, or most people, probably 90% of people, they just want to have a nine to five, have a regular salary and have safety. They wanna have safety at work, safety in their lives. They wanna go back to their home and be able to relax and watch TV or watch movie and sleep well.

[00:34:47] And uh, and because they need this safety or because they want this safety. I mean, is it more need or want? That’s for them to say, but the vast majority of the population don’t want more responsibility. That’s the truth, because. Whatever reason, because it’s easier, because, you know, they wanna sleep at night.

[00:35:07] Like, and, and there’s nothing wrong with that on the country. Uh, thank God we’re not all entrepreneurs. Otherwise, uh, I don’t know how, I don’t know. I don’t, I don’t know if it work, you know, Uh, let’s be here. Like, but uh, but, uh, but that’s, that’s what I discovered. And so, . It really put me kind of at, at peace when I understood that.

[00:35:28] Cause I was like, Okay, there’s a lot of, always a lot of competition competitors and, but at the same time, um, most people don’t wanna be entrepreneurs. That’s the truth. ?

[00:35:40] Clare Dobson: Mm-hmm . It’s not easy. It’s not easy. It may seem glamorous, but it’s not easy

[00:35:48] Lio Slama: For sure.

[00:35:48] Clare Dobson: Cement it. Yeah, it is. Absolutely. So let me ask you this.

[00:35:53] Looking back on everything you’ve done and everything you want to do, was it all worth it? Has it been worth it?

[00:36:02] Lio Slama: Yes, 100%. Of course. Um, it was a difficult choice, uh, at the very beginning. Cause again, I could have gone into real estate or private equity or architecture. . Um, you know, after I finished my second master degree economy university, I could have done anything I wanted, but, and I was like, You know what?

[00:36:23] I’m gonna, I’m gonna try and build a startup . And so I was alone in my, uh, little, uh, room on Upper West Side in New York, uh, starting to draft some MVPs and some designs, and, uh, I adapt. I knew no one, I, I really had no idea what I was doing, but. . But uh, when I look back, I’m like, Okay, um, now we’re raising money again.

[00:36:48] We have more and more customers. We are actually changing the way through asne, uh, how, uh, uh, B to C and D to see brand interact with their customers. We actually bringing more authenticity and the human manufacturer to the table. Um, we’re on a mission to abolish span. I cannot deal with spam anymore, so, Yes, it’s absolutely worth it.

[00:37:12] It takes always more time than you think, but yes, absolutely.

[00:37:16] Clare Dobson: That’s awesome. What’s next for you, for Asne? What’s next on your journey?

[00:37:23] Lio Slama: Next is to raise our seed round. Um, I’m just starting right now to to, to investors and, um, and onboard our wait list and really, uh, grow faster, hire more people as well for growth in engineer.

[00:37:37] Always looking for, uh, new team members. Um, and really we, we proved so far that when you don’t span people, when you are conversational, as you know, sales, marketing, customers support, when you do that, uh, you have way better results. Uh, some of our customers, uh, produce half a million dollars in just three days through

[00:38:01] Um, some of them have like 500 x uh, returns. On the investment with . So, um, and we are no code software like anyone can use it right away. It takes only two minutes to get started. So when you see that, that’s what motivates you and encourage you to continue, because, uh, when we started seeing those results, Ma Microphone and myself, we would, we couldn’t believe it, but the customers, uh, either they couldn’t believe it either because it’s like it never happened to them.

[00:38:32] Yeah. . Um, so. But we prove that, you know, one staff member can take care of 10,000 customers with sne. Like it’s unheard of. No, no other software does that. So we’re gonna keep building, we’re gonna keep, uh, building with those customers. We’re gonna keep making sure that no one is spamming, uh, and um, and they get those results that it’s there.

[00:38:55] Clare Dobson: Yeah. That’s incredible. That’s awesome. And I, I can’t wait to follow your journey and see where you go, where if some of our audience wants to follow, ask Nio, follow yourself. Like what’s the best way to, uh, follow along or contact you?

[00:39:09] Lio Slama: So we are very active on Instagram, in LinkedIn, uh, so they can follow us on Instagram if they look for ask.

[00:39:17] A S K N E O double finds. Uh, by the way, we call the company Ask Neo because of the metrics. Um, you know, if, if you remember in the metrics movie. And Neo basically helps, uh, human literally disconnect from the fake and digital world of the metrics and reconnect human to human. That’s exactly what we do at sne.

[00:39:38] We help consumer brands reconnect with their customers, Human, human. Um, and the irony is that our, the, the chat bot, the brand avatar, the automations, uh, we, we call it Neil. Uh, that’s the irony of the company, but, uh, , but it’s, it’s, yeah, it’s always a hybrid between human to human or human touch and, and automations.

[00:40:01] But that’s also what you learn in the metrics movie when you learn that. The, the humans need the machine to survive, but the machine need the humans to survive as well. Uh, . So, uh, so that’s the, that’s, that’s the movie. And by the way, a friend of mine the other day told me, But you did all this because of sms, because of texting.

[00:40:22] Right. And I was like, Why? What do you mean? Like, because you, you, you know, your conversational SMS with automation and Neo and at the very, the first minutes of the Matrix movie, the, the, the one, the, the first movie. He gets extracted from an sms, you know, follow the right rabbit. And I was like, Oh my God, I forgot that.

[00:40:43] I completely forgot that. He was like, Yeah, that’s sms. And it was like, you’re right, you’re right the way Circle . Yeah. It comes for circle. Like the, the way they extract human, the, the first time is that by phone call was actually by N sms, uh, from uh, I think MOS and he team, Yeah. Tune new matrix. So that’s what we did.

[00:41:04] We, we help those consumer brands, uh, reconnect with their customers, human to human. And, uh, we help those people working at those brands like sales managers or marketing managers or CMOs, um, extract themselves from the, the, the spam content or the spam game. Like everyone is spamming so much. It’s like, is it a, is it a race?

[00:41:29] Is the content like stop spamming? You know, there’s no need for that. Yeah,

[00:41:33] Clare Dobson: that’s, that’s incredible. And wow, what a story. I’m glad you added that in there because I didn’t even remember all of that. So that, I mean, that’s awesome. And I, I, I know there’s only good things ahead for you and Asne and I hope everyone takes a few minutes to check it out.

[00:41:49] But I appreciate Leo, for you joining the Startup Sidekick podcast. I think everybody’s gonna learn a ton from this, At least I did myself, so I appreciate it. Thank you

[00:41:59] Lio Slama: very much. Thank you very much for the opportunity and um, and once again, if they want to learn more about as Neil and want to try it out for free, they can text Neil and EO to (917) 451-5515, which is our phone number, and they will get extracted, uh, to the real world of, uh, human to.

[00:42:21] Clare Dobson: That’s incredible. I hope everybody texts that, checks it out and we can learn more from there. Well, thank you again, Leo. Appreciate it. Thank you. Thank you. Make

[00:42:31] Lio Slama: sure to follow us on Apple Podcasts and Spotify or visit abstract.ai Avst r a kt.ai. To learn more, keep kicking ass peace out.

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Author

Clare Dobson - VP of Marketing

With experience from SaaS to home services to non-profits, Clare has built proven marketing strategies for various customers. She is passionate about the customer’s success as well as empowering those around her each and everyday.