Leaders Scaling Up Like You: Leading A Tech Startup
In our new series called, ‘Leaders Scaling Like You’, we’re featuring some of our coolest leaders and their fast-growing companies. Each featured leader is committed to two success imperatives; igniting a company that makes the world a better place, while simultaneously further developing themselves as a leader. We’re happy to feature PANDA.AI….they are doing both.
Igniting a Company: PANDA.AI History and Business
PANDA.AI publicly announced it raised 3 Million Dollars during the Pandemic!! Impressive. The company has not disclosed what its exact product is but given the history of the founders, one can assume it will be something extraordinary.
Founders Aaron Goldfeder, CEO, and Yue Ning, CTO, are startup veterans. Aaron co-founded EnergySavvy, an enterprise analytics company focusing on SaaS, which was acquired by Uplight in 2019. During this successful period, he started noticing how frustrated he was with the basic tools they were using to get daily work done, and how it was hindering their team productivity. Aaron couldn’t stand how they handled information. That’s when he started ideating on PANDA.AI.
Yue is an expert in NLP (Natural Language Processing) and focused on text analytics. Next to being a former software engineer at Amazon, LinkedIn, Twitter, he also previously founded the NLP startup Civet AI.
In 2019, Aaron and Yue met as residents of the Allen Institute for AI (AI2) Incubator. Frustrated with the same things, they started throwing out ideas on how NLP and SaaS can improve teamwork, and how they could redefine architecture for a different kind of information synthesis approach. As a result, PANDA.AI was ignited. Its goal? To use AI to simplify work and combine various tasks across company divisions and stakeholders. PANDA.AI is a next-generation solution for problems that MILLIONS of knowledge workers experience daily.
Funding Their Startup
During the first half of 2020, PANDA.AI focused on showing its product to early adaptors and acquiring funding from top investors. Apart from Aaron and Yue, the company’s team is composed of various advisors around AI2 and elsewhere. The product advisor and investor is Eric Browne, co-founder of Smartsheet, with the NLP experts being, Dr. Noah Smith and Dr. Matthew Peters.
As of August 2020, PANDA.AI raised a $3.3M Seed round from PSL Ventures, the AI (AI2) Seed fund, and Ascend.vc. Also, entrepreneurs Kirby Winfield of Ascend.vc and Court Lorenzini (founder DocuSign) joined the round.
Developing As Leaders: People & Product Matter
Aaron and Yue knew through their years of entrepreneurial experience that making a startup successful does not only require having a good product, but it simultaneously requires great people, and great people make up a great culture.
Though product may be the initial King, the King doesn’t get very far without his complimentary Queen of Culture. Clarifying the vision/mission, defining company values, building the initial roadmap, determining the right people, establishing clear roles and responsibilities, agreeing on equity splits…. These are just a few of the crucial people processes needed in this foundational start-up phase. Thinking proactively about people & culture saves both time and money, but few entrepreneurs consider these as important factors early on.
Aaron and Yue are different. They get it. They not only are building the product & culture, but they are also ensuring they can be the best leaders they personally can be along the way. They look to professional coaching and facilitation to support both their cultural and personal development. About his coach, and coaching, Aaron remarked:
“We worked with [a coach] just as we sold our last company and we all took away tremendous insights from our work with her throughout that process. In my new company we are already using [the same coach] to help develop culture and organize roles and responsibilities. I told [my coach] after I worked with her at my first company, that I never wanted to not have a coach again and that I was going to hire her right away. And that’s what I did when I started my new company. She was the first person I hired.”
Leadership development is a must. At Gumball, we like to describe it as a ‘proactive insurance policy vs a reactive legal payout’. One way or another leaders at some point run into roadblocks they either anticipated or were blindsided by. It’s much better to anticipate than to get hammered. That’s what coaching can do for entrepreneurs in these early stages, they help start-up leaders identify and overcome blind spots, they provide the leader a strategic thought partner who is not on the board or is not a team member, and coaches provide ‘go-to’ playbooks of leadership skills and strategies necessary for moving the business forward faster.
Aaron himself expressed:
“We believe when teams understand themselves better, they’ll achieve more, work less, and be happier for it. That’s our mission and we hope you’ll join us!”
We cannot wait to see what PANDA.AI has to offer the world.