“Breaking Down the Path to Entrepreneurship”: An Interview with Gil Allouche, CEO, Metadata
Gil Allouche is a tech entrepreneur whose passion for artificial intelligence (AI), big data, and growth marketing led him to start Metadata in May 2015. As the Founder and CEO of Metadata, Gil prides himself on building a customer-first company. He is part of an ambitious team that is committed to solving a major problem that B2B marketing and sales professionals face — generating qualified, opt-in leads. Prior to Metadata, he ran marketing for Karmasphere (now FICO), Qubole and Silver Spotfire (now TIBCO).
Could you explain a little bit more about what Metadata brings to the marketplace?
Metadata is a technology software company in San Francisco. We are disrupting the B2B marketing space. We automate the marketing operations role with automation and AI. There are many tools in the B2B marketing space for tag management and email marketing automation and advertising and data vendors, etc. What Metadata does is connect all of those tools together, learn what worked and what didn’t work, and then orchestrate operations from within those technologies using an API, so that people don’t have to log in every morning and manually operate those tools. That’s the big vision.
Today we connect about 40 different tools in paid media and do anything from sourcing audiences to getting all of their PIIs and cookies, etc. Then, we execute campaigns on social media, retarget, and optimize all of those campaigns automatically using KPIs from Salesforce and market automation from the customers. We have about 60 customers. Some of them are enterprise and some of them are mid-market and startups.
Can you tell me a little more about your background before you started your startup?
I’m a software engineer. I’ve written code since I was a kid. I moved to the U.S. about 12 years ago to do my MBA at Babson College, an entrepreneurship school in western Massachusetts. After that, I spent eighteen months running product for B2B companies. Then I moved into the marketing realm. I was a very technical marketing manager, so I relied on 3rd party contractors to do my copy and communications. But, I had complete responsibility for on demand generation, making sure that my counterparts have a pipeline to go and sell. I did that in three companies. Two of them got acquired. At the third one, I was the first business hire. I was in a small team in a tiny room, and today Qubole is a few hundred people.
After doing that for about 7–8 years I had to choose whether I wanted to continue my career as a CMO (Chief Marketing Officer) and just work for bigger companies, or switch into the entrepreneurship realm, which is what I’m interested in, and build a product that will serve those non-technical CMOs and enable them to do what I did, but much easier. I started a consultancy with Qubole becoming my first customer. Three years later, this is where we are.
What previous experience do you feel best equipped you for your role right now?
Having the experience from both sides, as the software builder as well as the marketing software user. Building systems with AI, building Web products in the first part of my career and then switching up to doing an MBA led me to understand the business side of things and which software can solve for critical business KPIs. Then choosing the marketing space I wanted to innovate in, and then working as a CMO in a B2B company, gave me both points of view. All that prepared me for building the right software and serving the customers.
I started software companies before, and I’m always passionate and excelled in that type of culture, without everything set up, An unstable environment and high risk, that’s where I thrive and every year we exist makes me better entrepreneur for the future.
Do you believe that having a technical background first and then understanding the business side of things is the best background to have? Or do you believe learning the business side of things first is more important?
It’s hard for me to say because I’m already subjected to the way my career went and so it’s hard for me to roll back and say maybe there’s a better way. I think I’m well equipped to run Metadata because I have a technical background and then I had the customer experience. Would it be better the other way around? Maybe. I don’t know many people who have done the other way around.
The vast majority of people that I know in my position have a technical background and they know what’s possible to build to begin with. They build it in an amateur way using scripts, which is exactly what I did for eight years while I was running marketing. Then, after seeing it working, I built some of the tools myself, used them in my role and then built a generic solution for the rest of the market. It would not have been possible to do that the other way around because I wouldn’t even know it’s possible to fix using software.
If you could go back to the first day of your startup, when you were still building Metadata up, what advice would you give yourself?
Probably spend more time building the software. Maybe give delivery more time, building something small, focused, and that was more of an MVP (Minimal Viable Product). In my mind my MVP was more of a VP and not so minimal. It was more of a bunch of different tools put together. I think I would’ve focused on building something more holistic, but more minimized. It took us about a year to bridge that gap to what we have today.
I probably would have invested a little more in engineering and product earlier on. Today that’s our main focus I’d also recommend reaching out to all of your colleagues, former managers — those will be your first customers, advisors, investors and will give you friendly needed feedback. Finally — I think it’s critical you learn how to manage your own psychology. Starting a company can be a tough journey and you need to learn to forgive yourself, adapt quickly and include others in your journey.
What do you think is the most valuable thing you learned from being a part of Alchemist?
I learned a lot from Alchemist. I learned about how seed investors perceive companies. I think I’m good at it, thanks to Alchemist. I also learned how to pitch my company, self development and reaching my first paying customers using CAB. That was very helpful and Alchemist definitely helped me do those. And finally the network, connections and practical 1:1 programming. Big shout out to Danielle and Ravi who are always there.
If you had to give some advice to someone in Alchemist right now, what kind of advice would you give them to make the most of the experience?
I think you have to come to Alchemist with something to offer already, meaning some technology or customers, and then take that raw material and build upon it. If you don’t have much, I would recommend to wait a quarter or two until you do, because otherwise you’re going to waste your time in the program.
Another piece of advice I have is to start the program before the program starts. Danielle and Ravi will attest that I was in touch with them maybe two or three months prior to the program starting, doing email campaigns to get investors, asking advice about evolution and about the rest of the things that I had challenges with before the program started. So, moving at your own pace with the leaders of Alchemist I think was the key success factor for me.
Finally, pick your battles in terms of what you want to participate in Alchemist and what you don’t. Running a business that already had some traction, I did not want to stop everything and attend every talk that Alchemist had. Rather, I wanted to keep running the business and use Alchemist whenever I saw fit, maybe 40 percent of the capacity or maybe 50 percent of the capacity. I don’t know if Alchemist will be happy with me sharing this, but that’s how I set it up, and it was very successful for us because it allowed us to keep the business running, and then use Alchemist for the things that we actually needed help with. Versus, go line by line with a program that was not always fitted to us because some companies were in a very different stage. We already had 30K MRR. and were kind of already started.
Given your background, do you have any advice for other foreign founders?
Being in the U.S. I would say visiting the U.S. and going after local companies with what is called the customer advisory board (CAB), a tactic that Alchemist educates about, is a great idea. Coming here, doing the activities, being at the office, I think is very important. I would also say, bring your team members with you to Alchemist. You need them involved, and not just your founders. You want to bring your co-founder and whatever the team is and bring them into the program and get them involved.
I would say especially for foreign partners to begin the process of reaching out to Angels and Seed Investors prior to joining Alchemist and work hard on getting some funding prior to the demo day. We got some money at the Investor Feedback Summit and we got some money prior to the program even starting. That was very helpful for us to give us a good sign that the strategy of Alchemist works, prior to the program even starting. It was very helpful, especially for a foreigner who was not very knowledgeable about those things. That’s a piece of advice I would give someone who’s coming from a different country to Alchemist.
Was there anyone in your life that helped you as a mentor and influenced you a great amount? If so, what about them helped you?
I’m very lucky to have many mentors. I think I wouldn’t be able to get where I am without them. Some of them belong to Alchemist, some of them belong to Alchemist network, some of them don’t. First one that I had goes all the way back to my high school teacher who gave me confidence and belief that I didn’t have in myself back then. That’s the first one, back when I had some issues in high school. Then, if I take it all the way to Metadata time, my first advisor, outside of Alchemist, was Mickey Alon, a serial entrepreneur from Israel. He helped me get started with my very first pitch decks, etc.
And then one of the other very prominent advisors I had to date, I would say my strongest advisor, was Bill Portelli. He is from the Alchemist network. I met him at an Alchemist event and he’s been tremendously helpful with all things Metadata from sales to personnel issues, etc. Other wonderful advisors who constantly tell me things how they are include Boris, Derek, Jean, Bobby, Jonathan, Gary, Eli and the list goes on. Maybe that’s another important advice — get your advisory board early on and keep them engaged. They can do magic.
And I would say that Danielle has been very helpful. You know Danielle is kind of the de facto manager for Alchemist. She makes a lot of things happen and she’s also very good at advice and very resourceful. I think she provided great advice and mentorship at times when I needed it.
What are you excited about for Metadata in the coming future?
Growth. We are onboarding more and more customers than ever before. The last four months have been stronger than the previous twenty-four months before them. We’re seeing a good amount of growth. We’re also seeing a lot of confirmation from the market that what we’re doing is the future of marketing. So now it’s a question of how quickly can we leverage that growth with the value, raise more capital, and then grow the company. I’m excited about the next stage of the company moving from 60 customers to 200. Having a fifteen person team to having a thirty person team. I’m excited about those challenges.
What constitutes success for you personally?
Success is to see a product that you really needed in the market being used by enterprise companies like Amdocs, Hitachi, and SugarCRM. Having companies like these use the product, successfully renew, excel, and giving us testimonials and case studies. For me that is success. That means that the initial idea that we had and the solution to that problem that we thought exists, these are confirmation for a product market fit. That’s the first piece of success for a company at our stage.
The next success would be a big institutional venture capitalist standing behind us with a large sum of capital to grow, and of course reaching profitability. For me a personal milestone that I’d like to achieve. Those three things I think are the major successes in relation to Metadata.
Are there any other insights you’ve learned that you want to share with the next generation of entrepreneurs?
I think the biggest thing to do for an entrepreneur is to get started. To unblock your own limiting thoughts of “what needs to happen before I’m ready to start a company.” Nothing has to happen. You just have to start it and then break down the path to entrepreneurship through small wins. To put the first landing page together, talk to the first 20 prospects, talk to the first angel, put it on Facebook. Share it. Don’t be secretive about your startup. The moment that you think you’re ready to, if you have a problem that you’re very passionate about and you have the domain expertise, you shouldn’t wait a second, you should just start it and then let it grow and let the market reject your idea or execution. You may have to switch, to change your idea, change your execution strategy, change your partners, what have you. Or if you see that it’s gaining traction then just continue to roll with whatever is coming at you.
I would say that the biggest hurdle is for people to change their mind and say I’m an employee now and today I’m an entrepreneur. Nothing’s doing it for you. You have to do it on your own. The best way to get it is to just start taking action. You don’t have to resign from work right away, just devote 3 days or a week to it for a few months and you should be able to see some progress before you make the switch completely. That’s that’s the biggest hurdle I would say for entrepreneurs.
About the Alchemist Accelerator
Alchemist is a venture-backed initiative focused on accelerating the development of seed-stage ventures that monetize from enterprises (not consumers). The accelerator’s primary screening criteria is on teams, with primacy placed on having distinctive technical co-founders. We give companies around $36K, and run them through a structured 6-month program heavily focused on sales, customer development, and fundraising. Our backers include many of the top corporate and VC funds in the Valley — including Khosla Ventures, DFJ, Cisco, and Salesforce, among others. CB Insights has rated Alchemist the top program based on median funding rates of its grads (YC was #2), and Alchemist is perennially in the top of various Accelerator rankings. The accelerator seeds around 75 enterprise-monetizing ventures/year. Learn more about applying today.