Podcast Recap: Wiza CEO Stephen Hakami on Growth + Learning
Why do you do what you do?
Late last year, we shared why we started Wiza. A specific problem within sales development turned into a company. Now we can give you a deeper look at where Wiza came from — and where we’re going.
This year, Wiza CEO Stephen Hakami joined the Rising Tide Startups podcast. The interview with Kevin Prewett dove into Stephen’s story, Wiza’s prospecting tool and the future of the company. You can listen to the podcast here or take a look at a shortened version below. Stay awesome — we will if you will!
— The Wiza Team
Rising Tide Startups: Interview With Wiza CEO Stephen Hakami
This is Kevin Pro with Rising Tide Startups And my guest today is Stephen Hakami. Stephen. Thanks for joining us on Rising Tide. Tell our audience a little bit about yourself.
I’m the founder of Wiza.co, which is a tool that lets you export leads from LinkedIn Sales Navigator.
Right after high school started my first sales job selling conference tickets and tables and sponsorship. And through that I always had an interest in software, especially sales software.
I eventually left the company and created a software also for sales reps. I kind of quickly had to pivot that into an agency, which was specifically in the cold email space. We worked with a lot of startups, helping them generate sales and interest specifically through cold email. And we just had a need to generate tons and tons of leads off LinkedIn.
But we didn’t find a good solution out there. So we internally built out a tool that allowed us to create email lists quickly.
At that point I realized there’s actually a lot of value there and it’s a tool that I think a lot of companies should be using. So the company eventually pivoted over and now we’re all on Wiza full time.
Well, it’s amazing. I mean you’re 22 years old and you sound like you’ve had 30 years of experience in the tech space. I mean, you just ran through that. But I want to drill down a little bit on just LinkedIn as a tool and maybe the frustration, if you can unpack that a little bit.
LinkedIn is super powerful. The prospects that are on there are amazing. Kind of everyone knows by now the value of LinkedIn, but they don’t make it especially easy to scale outreach and scale your lead generation. So it does end up being somewhat of a manual process, which is workable when you’re doing smaller numbers.
But once we had a ton of clients, we really realized how much more efficient the process could be. In terms of competitors, there are, of course, other ways of going around generating leads off LinkedIn and figuring out emails quickly. We just found we were piecing together so many tools here and there. One to figure out the name, one to figure out the email address, and even after you get the email address, you don’t know if it’s valid or not.
I’m a user of LinkedIn Sales Navigator as kind of a lead generation tool. So I have a list, but I mean it won’t export to Excel. And it is just such tedious, laborious work. What a great tool. What’s been the response and when was this launched initially? And then what’s been the response since then?
We actually just launched it in May of 2019, and right away I kind of knew there was something different here.
Like I mentioned with the software before, it felt like pushing something uphill and nothing was really working. But this, it just sort of flowed nicely. And I’d send a few LinkedIn messages and right away people understood it, understood the value.
We were getting testimonials with our beta version of the product that people telling us how much time they saved, how many sales they generated with the leads they found. So I instantly knew within just a few weeks that this is what I needed to fully focus on.
Is that kind of the pathway that this took and you kind of had that aha moment that said, “Wait, we got something here that we didn’t necessarily start out the build”?
It’s funny because you hear so many success stories coming out of that need. And I was sitting there kind of wishing that, “I wish I had a need for something.” But right under my feet, I did actually have something. Where there’s one person, there’s usually many others. So, the need did end up being there. And I think I’ve learned my lesson now, that even if you’re in a small niche, there’s others out there that probably have the same problem you’re having.
So you and I are stepping on an elevator. We’re going to go up about 10 floors, just really quickly. Give me your 32nd elevator pitch of Wiza.co.
Wiza lets you scrape LinkedIn Sales Navigator to create email lists instantly that would otherwise take you hours to generate. You can find thousands of leads with verified email addresses and we only charge you for the valid emails that we find.
And the tool itself determines if it’s a valid email and determines if this is a valid lead and just kind of keeps track of that as it’s kind of doing these searches.
Exactly. It gives it back to you in a CSV file. Here are your 500 valid ones, 200 are risky, which are emails where we’re not certain if they’re valid or invalid, and then here you’ve got the 100 where we couldn’t find an email for them.
As you are launching this, I was reading somewhere that you have had unbelievable growth that even amazed your 22 year old self with how fast this has grown. So kind of walk us through that. You don’t have to give us specific numbers, but just kind of walk us through this hockey stick growth pattern that you’ve seen in the last 10 months.
Like any business, it started off slow but still exciting just to get revenue with it. Our first month we did 35 bucks, and I was ecstatic just from seeing that people did have an interest. And from there, it kind of just grew each month. I think our second month we did about $2,000 and then $4,000, and then $4,000 became $8,000. So each month we were about doubling. And then now we’re growing at about 20 to 30% per month.
From the start when it was just myself, it was just about reaching out to people, getting different groups on LinkedIn, sales communities on Slack. Just posting it and saying, “Hey, this is the software we’ve built. Let me know if you have any feedback.”
Cold email and good content has been the main drivers so far.
I think if someone at LinkedIn really saw the conversations we’re having with their users about Sales Navigator and the content we’re creating about Sales Navigator and just the number of conversations where people really don’t know even some of the basic Sales Navigator features that are insanely helpful at finding people in their target market, I think they would say, “There is something here for us in educating our user base and making those Sales Navigator users more efficient.”
You’re the CEO. You’re a 22 year old CEO. Have you had to grow from, “We kind of ran a little email agency” to now “We’ve got this big thing taking off at 20-30% a month. We don’t know where it’s going to end, how big the team’s going to grow,”? Are you just devouring business books on how to lead teams?
I’ve always been interested in business, reading books all the time, listening to podcasts. But there’s nothing like experiencing it. And when the company did start to grow and I started hiring people that I didn’t know… these are all things that kind of matured me. Even just the responsibility when you hire someone, that’s their income source for themselves and their family.
Well, I’m amazed at how much you’ve taken on and how well you seem to handle it.
So I’m curious. Just kind of keep in mind, we’ve got listeners out there that are thinking, “How can I kind of escape my cubicle tomorrow?” What are two or three really foundational steps that you think they really need to kind of take on board and maybe lessons you’ve learned along the way?
I think the first thing that comes to mind is kind of just relentless knowledge; learning and investing in yourself. Books and courses have provided so much value.
If it’s something that’s going to help develop myself or sharpen my skills in something, then I try not to look at the price. And I just figure out a way to get that course or get that book and really learn as much as I can.
We’re so lucky that we don’t have to go to a library to learn new skills. We can just do it from anywhere. I’d say taking advantage of that is the biggest thing.
In your opinion, how important is it to be passionate about the thing? Could you sell hamburgers just as easily as you could sell Sales Navigator output?
It’s tough to say, because the question is, “Am I really passionate about cold email or LinkedIn Sales Navigator?”
Who’s actually passionate about that, right?
I think maybe not passion, but loving what you do is important.
Sales has always been my interest because from the first time I got on a sales call, I found it amazing that with just hard work and time and no real costs, you can start convincing people to buy products from you.
I think progress excites me. I don’t know how important it is to be insanely passionate with such a specific thing like what exactly your business does, but it is important to be interested in or be passionate about building something big, loving making progress and working with people.
I love the way you frame that. And it’s not necessarily the thing you have to be in love with, but you have to be in love with building the thing.
So, what’s your long term vision? Where is this going?
I think we continue to automate the sales process. Right now we’re speeding up prospecting. I think there’s so much innovation in sales that hasn’t been brought out.
Don’t get me wrong, sales has a lot of software. But I think there’s a lot to go on improving that. What more intelligence can we get in there to figure out who might be interested in our products?
For us, I think what’s been important for me to make sure we’re nailing what we’re doing now, make it perfect. Can we increase our success rate in the number of emails we find? Can we make it a little faster?
And then once we’re totally happy with that, growing on that. And hopefully as we make our product better and better, then our company grows bigger and bigger as well.
There we go. That’s Wiza 2.0. Look, see the gears spinning.
Well, Stephen Hakami, thank you so much for taking your time today. It’s been great, just connecting with you. And, like I said, I am a Sales Navigator user and I just love the idea behind the product. I appreciate you joining us today.
Create prospect lists from Linkedin.
Convert any Linkedin search to an email list ready for outreach.