Selling Algolia’s Market-Leading Search Solution Requires a Love for Learning and a Consultative Approach

On the day of this interview, Algolia was in the middle of simultaneous celebrations across two continents to mark the company’s five-year anniversary. But a few members of the Sales team — Guillaume Duvaux (Enterprise) and Atanas Nalbantov (SMB) in Paris, and Jasmine Mireshghi and Brian Reisman (both Mid-Market) in San Francisco — kindly stepped away to chat about selling a highly technical product that customers actually like, and how Algolia’s collaborative culture is driving growth for the company and their careers.

Interviewees, clockwise from top-left: Jasmine Mireshghi, Guillaume Duvaux, Brian Reisman, and Atanas Nalbantov

First, give us your elevator pitch. What does Algolia do?

Guillaume: We provide companies with the best tools to create relevant, instant search experiences on their websites and mobile applications. We like to say our mission is to connect intent with content at the speed of thought.

Jasmine: Our users range from developers to big enterprise companies, as Guillaume said. Algolia was conceived with the intention to give everyone a chance to use our core API — and we believe this is the right way. The developers and the community are very important to us and we want to show them that.

In the A.M., it’s all business. From left: Jordan, Gabriel, Chip, and Erin.

Can each of you explain your roles on the Sales team?

Jasmine: I started out on small-to-medium business accounts, or SMB, about a year ago. Now I’m a mid-market account executive, working with companies that have between 1,000 and 5,000 employees, which requires more strategic selling.

Brian: I’m also a mid-market account executive, or AE. Jasmine has been here longer — I only started about three months ago. It’s been cool to see the company grow from 110 people to about 160 just in that short time.

“We’re kind of like a family. Everyone is very open — candor is one of Algolia’s core values. That does mean you’ll get criticism sometimes, but it’s always constructive.” -Atanas

Atanas: I joined a year ago as an inbound sales development rep, or SDR. When a lead comes in through our website or by email, I’ll look over the information and connect the prospect with the right AE. Another part of my job is reaching out to customers we’ve worked with before, to let them know about new features and keep that relationship going. Whenever I connect with a company that would be a good fit, I start the conversation and iron out some of the details, then I hand off to someone like Guillaume. I think of myself as the Alfred to his Batman.

Jason channels his inner Steph Curry and drains his 4th straight shot from ~15 feet.

Guillaume: I started out doing SMB sales and business development about three years ago. Then I moved into mid-market, and about eight months ago, transitioned to my current role as an enterprise AE.

In enterprise, I’m working with some of the largest companies in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa, as well as in the Asia-Pacific region. Because of their size, my customers have different pain points compared to someone in SMB or mid-market. I might also be working with 10 or 20 people at the same company, which makes the sale much more complex. In the SMB and mid-market segments, it was more about learning the product and understanding how to talk about Algolia. That was interesting, and a great foundation for the work I’m doing now.

In San Francisco, the entire office eats together. Right: Laura drops a punch line.

How is selling at Algolia different, compared to other companies?

Brian: One difference is that our product directly generates revenue for our customers, so selling is much easier and more fun. I was in sales at a security company before, so the products were more behind-the-scenes. That makes it harder to make your case, and people are buying out of fear. Here, they’re buying out of excitement.

Guillaume: Algolia is also a very technical product, and we often sell to very technical people — we’re talking to developers and CTOs as well as product managers and marketers. So we really have to get our hands dirty and understand how the product works. We have to speak our users’ language, and be able to talk with them about the API and infrastructure. It can be a challenge to develop that deep understanding, but I think it’s part of the reason people on this team grow so quickly. We’re pushing ourselves and learning something new every day. We’re more like consultants than salespeople.

For me, the other thing that’s different about Algolia is our size. I was at SalesForce before, which was an amazing place with amazing people. But here, you can have a much bigger impact on the company.

“We’re more like consultants than salespeople. We provide real insights from daily conversations with customers, from backend engineers to e-commerce specialists.” -Jasmine

Jasmine: There’s also a way in which we are more like consultants than salespeople. First, because our customers are more sensitive than most about language that sounds too “salesy.” But also because we provide real insights drawn from our daily conversations with customers, from backend engineers to e-commerce specialists. That provides us with a wide view of what companies are doing across industries — which is so much better than just reading about trends. As a team, we have experience with more than 4,000 implementations. That’s invaluable context.

A poster of the Eiffel Tower (in SF) is anything but kitschy when your Paris office looks out at the real thing (below, from a conference room window).

What’s the team culture like?

Atanas: We’re kind of like a family. Everyone is very open — candor is one of Algolia’s core values. That does mean you’ll get criticism sometimes, but it’s always constructive. I remember in the early days, I was working with Guillaume and he came over to tell me my emails looked like spam. That’s never easy to hear, but it completely changed my approach for the better.

Guillaume: Yeah, working here has taught me not just about how to take feedback, but how to give it too. As we’ve added new team members over the years, I think we’ve realized that everyone is different, and we need to offer feedback in a way that resonates with the individual. I always do my best to be honest and direct, but I adapt my approach to the person I’m talking with, to make sure it can help them as much as possible. And I love the fact that everybody treats me the same way!

“We provide companies with the best tools to create relevant, instant search experiences on their websites and mobile applications.” -Guillaume

Jasmine: Another thing I like about our culture is the diversity, and the way we see diversity as a strength. In a lot of sales organizations, everyone comes from a very similar background. At Algolia, we have all these different skillsets that we can bring together to accomplish our goals. Some of us have services experience, or security experience. Some people were writers before, or they worked in education. Each one of us is great at certain things. And because this team is so collaborative, each person helps make the team stronger as a whole.

Brian: That collaboration is so helpful, especially when you’re still learning the product. Just last week, for example, I got to visit Guillaume and Atanas and the Paris team, which was a great opportunity. They have been doing this a long time, so they were able to provide so much insight on the different markets and how to approach them. And the fact that Algolia was willing to send me to Europe to learn from them face-to-face — I think that speaks volumes about our sales culture. It’s pretty rare.

Members of the Sales Engineering and Sales teams collaborate daily.

How does Sales collaborate with other teams?

Jasmine: Because we’re a smaller company, there is a lot of collaboration across teams. Sales works closely with Solutions Engineering, for example. We’ll work together on demos, or they’ll hop on a call with us. They understand both the technical and sales side, so it’s important that we sit down together to figure out what’s working well and where we can improve.

Guillaume: We also work closely with Customer Success Management. When a deal is closed, the AE will keep working on it on a monthly or even weekly basis, but the CSM team takes over the day-to-day relationship. When that team was created, it was one of the best things that happened to Algolia. It’s freed up so much of my time to bring in new business, and they’re doing a much better job than we could.

But I have to say, in general, it doesn’t feel like there are different teams here at all. Everyone’s together in the same office, on the same team. We have lunch and chats with the designers, developers, and the infrastructure people every day.

“As we’ve added new team members over the years, we’ve realized everyone is different. We need to offer feedback in a way that resonates with the individual.” -Guillaume

Brian: As a new team member, I thought it was cool that we started working with other teams right away, during onboarding. Our engineers ran us through 5 to 10 courses in the first few weeks. So you get to learn directly from the people who built the product you’re selling. And that continues after onboarding. I can go up to our CTO or anyone else on the team and say, “Here’s where I am. How do I position from here?” It’s always an open conversation.

The SF office is at 2nd and Howard St. — the heart of SOMA—and two blocks from the soon-to-open Transbay Station. At least once per week, a few team members head out for coffee or a snack.

Tell us more about the sales cycle. Do all AEs have SDR support?

Brian: The outbound side is still a work in progress, but we’re building it up quickly. As AEs, we mentor SDRs on which accounts to go after, and we help them develop messaging for different people within those accounts — the end users and the builders and the decision-makers. We’re constantly talking with SDRs about the accounts they’ve had success with and why. For me, that’s actually one of the best parts of the job.

“As a new team member, it was cool to get to learn directly from the people who built the product you’re selling, during onboarding.” -Brian

Guillaume: Our average sales cycle is pretty fast because we have an awesome product, but of course it depends on the size of the deal and on who we’re talking to. A mid-market deal might take anywhere from 30 days to a few months. Enterprise is generally a bit longer, just because we’re talking to larger organizations that have different constraints.

At the Paris office (pictured), the day is winding down as folks roll into the San Francisco office. The window for real-time collaboration might not be long, but it’s always used effectively.

What kind of challenges should a new team member expect?

Guillaume: Brian, I think this one’s for you!

Brian: No challenges — it’s all roses! Just kidding. When you’re growing a five-person team to 15, 20, 30 people, there will be growing pains. You have to figure out how to divide things up between enterprise and mid-market and SMB, and that’s hard to do perfectly the first time around. I will say, though, that at Algolia that conversation is never antagonistic. No one’s blaming each other, no one’s fighting over leads. It’s just about who is best suited to what. So anyone who joins this team should understand that we’re growing, and they should be ready to contribute to that conversation. But ultimately, it’s something that will pay off for all of us.

“At Algolia that conversation is never antagonistic. No one’s blaming each other, no one’s fighting over leads. It’s just about who is best suited to what.” -Brian

Tell us about the opportunities for growth on the team.

Atanas: I didn’t have a sales background at all when I joined Algolia, which is why I started out in a junior position. I got the good news recently that I’m being promoted to SMB, after less than a year. An SDR here can have incredible growth in no time, because you get to work with these amazing people and you learn from them nonstop. I honestly never have a day where I don’t learn something new. Everyone will let you shadow their calls, and then they’ll explain why they said certain things in a certain way. I am constantly getting great advice, and I write it all down and use it to get better. It’s really an amazing atmosphere.

Jasmine: Absolutely, the learning experience has been incredible. Moving into the mid-market role in a year was fast, but I had all the resources I needed to get me to that point. There’s definitely a focus in Sales on creating opportunities for our team members, and on making sure that whatever your next goal is, you’re able to get there as quickly as possible.

Brian: As a team, we want to grow 100 percent or more per year, which is a pretty challenging goal. But I think with this product, the potential is absolutely there. Search is such a versatile tool, and Algolia can help a lot of different businesses with a lot of different needs. It might be a media company that wants to increase user engagement, or a website in Africa that needs a way for people to find content without a search bar. You learn about a new use case every day.

Left: Nicolas Dessaigne, CEO and Co-founder, celebrates Algolia’s 5th anniversary. A Champagne (from Champagne, France, of course) toast is only fitting.

What’s most exciting about Algolia right now?

Guillaume: For me, it’s the strength of our product. We are a leader in this space, and we’re going to keep adding product differentiators over the coming months and years. Algolia is becoming the obvious choice in the marketplace, which is great for us in Sales. Now we just need more smart people to help us grow.

Atanas: Yeah, I’m excited about the new products we’ll be offering. I can’t wait to see what this company will look like in two years, because it feels like we reinvent ourselves every six months. There’s always something new on the horizon.

“I’m constantly learning, and to know that I’m making an impact — that’s a fantastic feeling.” -Jasmine

Jasmine: It’s exciting for me to have the opportunity to work on larger accounts. I’m constantly learning, and to know that I’m making an impact — that’s a fantastic feeling. I just want to do more of that, as soon as possible.

Brian: I’m looking forward to three, six, nine months from now, when I have the experience to contribute on another level. More broadly, I’m excited about our growth. We are constantly bringing in new opportunities, and you never know exactly what’s going to happen next. Something is always changing. It’s just fun. It’s the difference between a day job, and a place where you actually look forward to work.

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