Follow-Up founder Matthew Himelstein wants to solve the biggest headache in sales
On Thursday, September 14th, 2017, the San Francisco chapter of the Columbia Venture Community will host CVC’s biggest West Coast event of the year: Columbia Startup Demo Night! We always look forward to this opportunity to meet, mingle and shine the spotlight on innovative startups from the Bay Area. This time, six startups, all with at least one founder who graduated from Columbia, will take the stage to demo their startup and compete for a cash prize in front of a panel of experienced judges.
As we gear up for the event, we’re speaking with all our Demo Night founding teams so that we can share their diverse, inspiring stories with the CVC community.
Matthew Himelstein, founder of Follow-Up, is a product and startup leader with a very particular goal: leverage artificial intelligence to help make the lives of B2B salespeople easier.
Matthew earned his BA at Columbia in Economics and Visual Arts, then earned his MBA with a focus on Entrepreneurship at Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford. His unique combination of left- and right-brain skills and experiences has made him an accomplished product designer and startup builder. I caught up with him via email this week to learn a bit about how Follow-Up began and how his experiences at Columbia University, as well as at other startups, prepared him for starting the company.
IM: Your mission at Follow-Up is very specific. Could you discuss how and why you chose this problem to work on? Why is improving the workflow for sales leaders so important?
MH: I’ve been infatuated with the technological advances powering Artificial Intelligence for a while now, and believe that AI is the next computing paradigm shift following the shift to mobile. So when my brother-in-law, a top medical-devices salesman in Northern California, was complaining about having to take time out of his day to update Salesforce, I started developing some virtual assistants for him to interact with. Out of that testing came Follow-Up, an AI-powered sales assistant.
Follow-Up’s goal is to make life easier for the entire sales team, which means making it easier for sales reps to update their CRM or for the sales leader to generate forecasts.
Of your past experiences, which has been the most important in preparing you for what you are doing today? Why?
During my first startup journey (Swoopt, the first daily fantasy sports app in the iTunes app store) I learned how to build an MVP product, iterate and grow it all the way up to a successful acquisition at the end of 2014. The experience of leading product development while fundraising while growing the team has been invaluable the second time around — from knowing which data to look for to validate the early MVPs of Follow-Up to keeping burn extremely low.
How about your experience at Columbia — what was most important about that time and what prepared you best for what came next?
At Columbia, I majored in Economics and minored/concentrated in Visual Arts while playing football. Juggling that schedule taught me time management skills that have allowed me to thrive in my professional life — there is nothing like writing your econ thesis on the trip back from Baker field after a night practice!
What do you wish you had learned in college (either at Columbia or elsewhere) that you didn’t, and had to learn later? What advice do you have for your younger self or for young grads who are thinking about starting their own companies?
When I was at Columbia (CC’02), “entrepreneurship” wasn’t a well-known field to get into. But when I went to Oxford for my MBA (’09) the iPhone had already come out and the app world was exploding. It was the wild west and rules were being re-written almost daily. It was an exciting time to ride the wave of smartphone adoption and that lesson is probably the one I’ve taken to heart the most: that in order to build a business there has to be some macro-economic ‘bet’ that you are making. You’re betting that some trend will continue to grow in your favor and enable something that wasn’t possible before.
For [my previous company] Swoopt [which was acquired by theScore in 2014], that was the apex of smartphones and daily fantasy sports games not having apps yet. For Follow-Up, it’s a combination of Natural Language Processing technologies, combined with advancements in Machine Learning frameworks and the continued reduction in infrastructure/hosting costs for serverless architecture.
Any final thoughts you’d like to share with the CVC West community?
For the entrepreneurs reading this far I’ll leave them with my two golden rules for running a startup:
1. Make it happen
2. Not dead yet
Stick to those two phrases everyday and your company will be a success — although it will probably take longer than you expect!
Thanks for your insights, Matthew! We’ll look forward to seeing you and learning more about Follow-Up at CVC West Demo Night on September 14.
To anyone who can’t wait to try out Follow-Up, sign up to request an invite right here.
— Irene Malatesta is a writer, marketer and CVC West board member. You can find her @irenekaoru.