Product development, navigating an acquisition and the importance of staying grounded in the "why" behind your startup journey.
In this episode, Barada Sahu, CEO of Mason, an AI shopping copilot for commerce, shares his background, including his experience in building products for global teams and working on the Citibank mobile app. He also talks about his previous startup and the acquisition by the Flipkart Group. Tune in to learn more about Barada's journey and the story behind Mason.
The key moments in this podcast are:
00:02:34 Scaling up businesses for brands.
00:06:11 Life-changing impact on businesses.
00:08:28 Learning essential founder skills.
00:11:23 Understanding and communicating solutions.
00:15:09 Building for pro users.
00:19:03 The importance of why.
00:00 Barada Sahu Welcome to the Tech Story Podcast, the place where we talk about the latest insights and trends in tech, business and startups. Today, I'm very excited to welcome Barry on the show. Barry is a technology and entrepreneur with over 20 years of experience. Currently he is the CEO at Mason, the Forbes and TechCrunch recognised AI shopping copilot for commerce. Previously his past startup was acquired by the Flipkart Group, a Walmart company in India. Barry, that's a lot to unpack. Would you like to maybe share a bit of background about your
00:37 Charles Brecque journey and the story behind Mason? Thank you for having me over Charles. It's a pleasure talking to you. Maybe what I'll do is that I'll give for folks listening a little bit to know about myself. I kind of spent my first half on the enterprise side of the ecosystem building our products globally for teams like BMW, Danelab globally. Subsequently, I jumped out to kind of work with this Citibank global mobile rollout. Hopefully for some of you folks who use the Citibank mobile app, that was one of those things that we kind of built back in the day. And yeah, I mean, post that, it was one of those things that I saw how there was this need for enterprises to really build wherever consumers were, helping them get access to the products. And that was really what I did with my first startup. It was a cross-platform application building toolkit, helping enterprises build applications across the entire platform from mobiles to desktop to web on a cross-site. Had a great time building it, scaling it a bit and of course, a great time also working together with the Flipkart group where we joined. And that's where I and my founding team really came together. We saw this thing, a lot of brands, they were able to come online, but they were really having this hard challenges in terms of how do you scale up businesses. And that was one of those insights for us. We were folks who really worked closely with brands, helping build all of this infrastructure within marketplaces and just realising that there are a lot many more entrepreneurs, a lot many more brands who have their own storefronts, but lack access to that infrastructure was really what was the story that really called to us. And with Mason, that's what we are solving for today, helping brands scale up by bringing infrastructure that helps them go from what we call from startup to scale up in the businesses. So that's a little bit about us. I've always
02:45 Barada Sahu been somebody who loves content, somebody who loves working together with entrepreneurs. Thank you for this great background. And I guess after the acquisition, I mean, it's so hard being an entrepreneur and the chance of being successful is so low. So you were successful once. Why go and do it again? What was sort of the, why put yourself through
03:12 Charles Brecque that pain again? Oftentimes you look at it and you, entrepreneurship on one side definitely is way hard, but at the same point of time, it's always very fulfilling. I mean, and you talk back to any entrepreneur that one of those core reasons why we step away from jobs to startup is oftentimes the fulfilment that we get and the degrees of freedom that entrepreneurship offers. And I think that's usually why companies are doing better on that front still, but there's still a way to go in terms of when you kind of step out and do it yourself. And I think that was one of those key reasons for me to kind of step out because I would definitely see that, you know, what you're doing great stuff within the Flipkart group, helping brands scale up, but there were a lot many more brands online and we just won't reach enough of them with the Flipkart platform. There are a lot many more global brands, whereas this infrastructure that we were building was at the heart of what really drives growth for a lot of these younger brands who are coming and setting up stores for the first time and over building up the online businesses. And that understanding is kind of missing and just this ability to have the impact, the larger impact that it could be.
04:21 Barada Sahu That's great. And yeah, I can definitely relate to entrepreneurship being fulfilling and even if it is, you know, hard and tough, ultimately the reward makes it very worthwhile and that's why we do it. I guess since being a founder of Mason, I can definitely relate to the journey of entrepreneurship ultimately being the drive and it's a lot more exciting than, you know, working in a large organisation where maybe you can't have as much of an impact or as much freedom, so I can totally relate. And so in terms of Mason today, what's been your favorite moment so far?
05:09 Charles Brecque You know, when we started off, it was honestly, we had this inkling of a problem of where it could really have an impact for merchants, but just seeing this in real life, where we see this transformational effect on customers and their whole businesses, that's really the wow moment for any person who's building or any person who's starting out the impact that they see in the face of that. And for us, it's really been seeing this, we've today worked with over a thousand plus global brands, but a lot of these brands, you know, they said that, hey, I'm like this woman who runs a business on the side, without the business, I really can't do enough at my home, but you guys have been a life saver. You kind of take a lot of things on autopilot and just those validation that we get back as to what you're building in is having a real impact on people's lives. That's really been incredible for us, just seeing that output. So those have been some of those standout moments for us seeing what we see as life-changing impact in terms of just financial security or in terms of where the business would otherwise collapse. We started right when COVID hit and for a large part of businesses, you well understand during that whole couple of years in between, everybody needed to figure out how do we kind of now bring home money because everybody needed to have a digital operations, everybody needed to have an online store, but just in know how. And the impact that we had during that time, I was pretty happy with what we kind of brought on board and some of those moments have been in credit. Just in terms of how life-changing and some of these stories that kind of emerged from, like I can ensure that I'm financially secure now and my business runs without it dropping. I'm having sales through my business. That's one of those standout moments for it. For some businesses, which are scaling up and finding it really, where do we bring in our next set of capital from? Really, they could go to Celsius without needing additional financing, some of the tools and the solutions that we brought on board. And those have been incredible, successful moments for us as entrepreneurs seeing that impact.
07:19 Barada Sahu Yeah, that's great. And I mean, helping customers is always rewarding, but even more when it impacts their livelihood and financial security. So congratulations on helping that. And what do you wish
07:35 Charles Brecque should learn before starting Mason? Yeah, as builders, oftentimes, I mean, and this comes from the DNA of the founders, oftentimes, I believe like every founder has some kind of a superpower before they start out and somewhere where they're good at, which is why they're coming into the space. Of course, you either like the problem, the space, where you're kind of having your personal edge and you kind of start it off on, but oftentimes you tend to index on one side, maybe you're good at sales, maybe you're good at building stuff, maybe you're good at, talking to people and communicating ideas, your ideas across. But you have something to check with. But oftentimes, when you're a founder, you need to kind of embrace all of those skills together. That's really what causes the success of the company. And so you've got to acquire all of those skills to some degree for next. So what I would have said is that maybe spend some time kind of indexing on learning a little bit more of those skills early on in terms of, you know, what sales is a very essential skill if you're a founder, you can't walk away from it. The ability to build is super essential because in the early days, you won't have people who are building out for you. You probably need to start off. And the third part of it is that problems need to be something that you personally feel. You can't build for a problem that you won't feel yourself. And so these are some of those learnings that have come along. So you've got to embrace the problem by saying that, hey, we started off by, you know, we'd launch stores ourselves and we'd go through the whole problem cycle ourselves. And then you kind of embrace the problem. Hey, how difficult is it for an entrepreneur really to start selling one today? And so those are kind of the things that really what I would say is that I've learned a little bit earlier in terms of saying that, hey, can I embrace the problem by setting up these online stores myself? Can I just ensure that I have better handling on how I sell to people?
09:26 Barada Sahu I can definitely relate to having to pick up skills that I didn't even know existed. But I guess just following off on that, what sort of advice would you give to a founder or entrepreneur who doesn't have a background in sales? And as you said, selling is essential, you know, without customers, no revenue, without revenue, no investors. So yeah, how would you suggest, what tips can you give for like building sales skills?
09:57 Charles Brecque Yeah, so I often actually misunderstand what sales means and often times as builders, I think it's inherent that hey, selling is a skill that we don't really need to know. And it's really something like somebody else needs to do it. It's kind of a dirty job and they're kind of doing snake oil. But that's never really what sales is all about. Sales is really about understanding people's problem and being helpful. That's really, and that's what people want to buy. People want to bite into what's valuable, what's helpful for them. That's really, and you need to have the ability to communicate that way. And you know, the way that I speak to engineers in my team and product builders in my team is that the human language is code for the human race, as we call it. So you need the ability to, and as this, today morning, in fact, I was having a chat with one of my engineers and he said that I don't need to learn how to communicate or write emails. I can code. And he said the human language just incidentally happens to be code for humans. So it's super essential to pick up on those skills of how do you communicate ideas? How do you communicate the value that you bring on board? And that's really what sales is all about. So if you are a younger founder, I think just sales is not something so daunting. It's just really your ability to communicate your ideas, as to why you are building this. How does it help people? And that's really what matters.
11:23 Barada Sahu So a great piece of advice, which essentially is understand the problem and then communicate
11:29 Charles Brecque your solution for that problem, and then Ben's sales will happen. Yeah. That's really all that's there in the magic sauce, as you call it. Perfect. And where do you see yourself and Mason in the next five years? Yeah. So I kind of have this long term view in terms of how the space is emerging. I'm pretty sure that you see this long a bus today in the space around how AI's come off each almost of sort generative AI has brought it to the forefront. But having said that, there's a lot of changes and what this really brings is change in consumer behavior. Now, oftentimes you kind of see through these pivotal moments. I don't know if you're kind of active during the mobile era, but the mobile and the social era were really fundamental changes in terms of how we interacted with devices, how we interacted with computing devices really kind of changed dramatically. What we are is at a similar moment in history today with AI. And we see that kind of affecting across the board from how we shop to how consumers discover products, to how consumers buy them. And so for us as a kind of look forward to five years forward, I see that we kind of being the infrastructure that kind of bridges this gap between brands who are coming online today and brands and consumers today. And how do you kind of bridge that gap with say as consumers, as we help consumers shop anywhere, how can brands really help you communicate that narrative of what your brand is all about? Why do you need to buy from them? How does it help and enrich their lives no matter where consumers are? And so that's the infrastructure I see us building in the days to
13:15 Barada Sahu come. And so fast forward five years, we hopefully are a part of that. Great. No, I mean, best of luck achieving that vision. It sounds very ambitious, but it seems like you're on track. So congrats. And you're on the Tech Story podcast. So what's your favourite tech product and why?
13:35 Charles Brecque This is the thing that I see about products and as having this conversation recently is that, you know, great tools, they not only help us do things, but they also help us think. And so one of those products that I really like along those lines is notion. I really love the simplicity that it brings in terms of helping me express ideas, but also at times just help me brainstorm and clarify my thoughts together and help me think better. So I usually tend to see if you dial back and say that the first set of tooling, online tooling, we had spreadsheets, we had Word documents, we had presentations, the whole office suite, but they're so basic tools that oftentimes those basic tools kind of help you express your creativity, help you kind of think better in terms of what you want to do. And so I think that's really the hallmark of what I see as a great tool. For me, notion has really been one of those super cool tools that I've loved.
14:39 Barada Sahu I've only got the notion relatively recently. I agree, it really allows you to be more creative and express your creativity. But I guess I've also noticed that there's a lot of noise on Twitter, and maybe this noise has always existed around notion, but being clunky, you know what it used
15:00 Charles Brecque to be. Do you agree or is that just? Yeah, and usually that happens as all sorts of tools mature, is that what we call this building for the pro user and building for the starting off user is oftentimes almost always at disparity at each other. And for somebody who's come up with motion, you probably find that, hey, there's a lot many more shortcuts, there's a lot many more things that you can do. As they go down that curve, it's also the thing to watch out for. And as you rightly say today, it's not only by the way in the Twitter world, personally also I feel there's a lot many more things in notion I just don't use. But at the same point of time, the simplicity of the interface does keep me grounded in terms of what I can do today. But yeah, it's something definitely for the notion team itself to watch out for is that how far can this get that barrier without losing their core users of sorts, because then it's the again the cycle for another tool to emerge which kind of comes back with the simplicity of writing, expressing and what's at the core of
16:06 Barada Sahu creativity. That's really what kind of matters to us as users. Yeah, I guess yeah, when you have a such a great product and you want to obviously conquer the market, you have to make some key decisions around which users you want to grow with and which users do you want to bring along
16:25 Charles Brecque with you. So yeah, hopefully it's a nice problem to have. Yeah, I mean, as you scale up, it's always one of those problems that you keep battling also with when you start up. Oftentimes you kind of start up with the creators, the individual folks, but that's obviously one way to start a business. But as you kind of grow, you also see businesses kind of jumping on board. And oftentimes as a business you might have very different needs. And so how do you balance those needs? But I definitely see this as one area where I see that as more AI interfaces come to the flow, hopefully we'll see less of clunk because then you might have assistants who can help to figure out which kind of tools that you really need at that point. How do you kind of, maybe just in the case of engine, which kind of formatting to apply to a block need not be decided by a person itself. It could be an assistant kind of deciding, hey, we could reformat the block in this way to kind of give you better expression. And so there might be some of those things that come into play, but I definitely see
17:21 Barada Sahu that kind of going down the road as more AI based interfaces. Yeah, I mean, the notions of AI capabilities are really impressive and definitely, you know, Tt are unlocked for more creativity and work. I guess, Ari, I've already taken a lot of your time. So I'm going to ask you the closing question we asked all our guests. What piece of advice would you give to an aspiring founder or
17:51 Charles Brecque tech leader? It's kind of all about building your company. And I think it also as I reflect back, and I say that, hey, when you start up to as a scaler, it's very difficult to keep yourself grounded as to why you started up on that vision. And so it's very necessary to also tell yourself and reinforce for yourself, why are you in this? So as founders who are starting up, it's oftentimes very necessary to say that why are you building this is something that you kind of need to keep close at heart. And that that always keeps you grounded on what are you building as well. It's oftentimes said that we build what we measure, and you need to have the right things that you want to measure for. And this, this why you are building is always a super important fact, because if you are building to make more money, it's very different from if you're building to solve somebody's pain point to if you're building to, hey, I want to solve my own pain. They're very different problems. And I think you need to kind of keep yourself telling yourself that so that you're
18:56 Barada Sahu headed in the right direction. Yeah, I think there's, you know, why, why, why, you know, the big question of the why is super important, especially when things aren't going to plan or, you know, because ultimately, if you forget why, then, you know, you might give up or you might,
19:16 Charles Brecque you know, back and go down the wrong direction. And there's always going to be ups and downs in life as in business, but the why keeps you grounded as why did you start out on this problem. And oftentimes, if you have clarity on that, it always kind of the rest of the things can come together the following place. Well, thank you very much for being on the show. And best of luck, Ray Mason. Yeah, thank you. Thank you for having me. Charles, it was great talking to you. Have a great time. Sounds good. Thanks, you. Bye.