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Saleswhale helps companies reel in sales leads using AI

Pauline Wong
Pauline Wong • 5 min read
Saleswhale helps companies reel in sales leads using AI
SINGAPORE (June 3): Gabriel Lim, CEO and co-founder of tech start-up Saleswhale, is a bundle of good humour and energy, barely sitting still during a 45-minute interview at the company’s brand new office in Suntec City. They have only just moved in, he
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SINGAPORE (June 3): Gabriel Lim, CEO and co-founder of tech start-up Saleswhale, is a bundle of good humour and energy, barely sitting still during a 45-minute interview at the company’s brand new office in Suntec City. They have only just moved in, he says, in reference to the packing boxes and detritus strewn all over the place. Over by the wall of windows overlooking Marina Bay, a group of Saleswhale employees are tucking into boxes of pizza. All of a sudden, a gong sounds, causing them to cheer. “Everytime we close a sale, we ring the gong,” Lim explains, grinning.

Lim and his team certainly have reason to cheer. In April, Saleswhale secured US$5.3 million ($7.3 million) in Series-A funding, led by Monkshill Ventures and including existing backers GREE Ventures (rebranded as STRIVE) and Wavemaker Partner.

Saleswhale provides artificial intelligence (AI) “sales assistants” to help marketers follow up on leads and qualify them at scale. The bots send emails and brochures, answer questions and even set up appointments autonomously; the person at the other end is none the wiser. What this means is that marketers and sales teams are freed from the tedium of sending numerous emails to little or no response.

Currently, Saleswhale works with over 100 companies, ranging from mid-sized firms to Fortune 500 corporations. Among their clients are global recruiting and HR agency Randstad and education provider General Assembly. According to Lim, since Randstad began using Saleswhale’s AI sales assistant, it has generated 2.5 times more sales appointments than the team of 14 salespeople. “The sales team actually loves the assistant,” he is quick to add. “To them, it is a force-multiplier. The AI assistant syncs their calendars up for them and they can do so much more, more effectively.”

Saleswhale was the only Singaporean company to have graduated from Silicon Valley accelerator Y Combinator in 2016. The Y Combinator is the so-called “tech unicorn” start-up generator, having incubated tech companies such as Airbnb and Dropbox.

Chatbots and other forms of AI are ubiquitous in today’s interactions. As a result, pundits have predicted that 40% of jobs will be replaced by automation in 15 years, while consulting firm McKinsey reckons “between 75 million and 375 million people around the world may need to change occupational categories and acquire new skills by 2030”.

Lim is aware that people are increasingly leery of chatbots, but he sees the value in them. Time is a precious commodity and he is simply working to make life easier for salespeople.

Lim is a tinkerer at heart, having spent hundreds of hours in his school computer labs as a kid building websites and trying his hand at hacking, he admits with a chuckle. “I learnt basic coding in school and just experimented with creating websites that had those flashing animations,” he jokes.

That tinkering hobby led Lim to leave a full-time job as a software engineer in 2015 to bring Saleswhale to life with co-founders Venus Wong and Ethan Le. “We are all software engineers, so now you’re thinking, what on earth are software engineers doing in sales and marketing?” he jokes. “But I had worked closely with the sales team in my previous job of providing enterprise and data visualisation solutions, and so much of their work seemed so inefficient to me.”

Around that time, Lim discovered the Google Cloud API platform and later on, Google’s free, open-source software library, Tensorflow. Eventually, he got the idea to “digest” sales emails and automate the work of chasing down sales leads to make things more efficient. It was then that Saleswhale was born.

“It started as a side project and quickly turned into my obsession!” he laughs. When Le, a good friend, wanted a change in job too, Lim quickly roped him in to this side project. By December 2015, they were working out of cafes and co-working spaces to get their project up and running.

Getting accepted into the Y-Combinator the following year was the boost the start-up needed, and they have not looked back since. Today, they are a small but growing team of about 30, and have plans to open an office in the US.

Lim ultimately wants Saleswhale to list on the Nasdaq. To do that, he is banking on two very simple, but crucial concepts: constantly delivering a great product and doing that in the most efficient, prudent and focused way possible. For Lim, his eye is always on his balance sheet. “A lot of people get fooled by the vanity matrices such as top-line revenue or impressive user growth numbers. But it’s much more important to have a solid grasp of your margins,” he says.

“I didn’t go to college, and I did not come from a well-to-do family. My father is an entrepreneur but we were not privileged. I don’t see myself as grounded per se, I like to take risks and will make a lot of mistakes. Still, the one mistake you must not make is running out of money,” he says. “Once you do, it’s game over.”

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