Tadas Labudisis a self-taught developer and the maker behind the customer analytics SAAS business Prodsight. Tadas studied Business at university and learned to code in order to be able to make money from his entreprenuerial instincts. Here he tells us about his journey learning to code, making online businesses and his tips for entrepreneurs who want to code but don't know how to.
Hi, I’m currently the founder and CEO of a startup called Prodsight which I founded about two years ago. In a nutshell, Prodsight helps product managers inform and prioritise the right solutions for their customers by using data instead of gut-feel. We do that by automatically analysing customer feedback from sources like Intercom and Zendesk and surfacing the most important customer issues. I was born in Lithuania and moved to Scotland to study when I was 18. Right now I’m splitting my time between Edinburgh and London.
I grew up in a single-parent household with my mom and sister so we didn’t have a lot of money. I saw my mom work really hard across three jobs but still, we could only afford the basics and lived in a rough neighbourhood. I noticed that all the rich people in town were running their own businesses so from the very early age I set myself on that path.
Luckily, I had a natural knack for business - as a teenager I used to buy and sell second-hand computer parts and use the profits to buy and upgrade my own computer. I loved computers and the informatics classes at school but back then it didn’t seem like a lucrative career path so I applied to do a Business degree at the University of Glasgow. However, I maintained an interest in computers as a hobby.
When you want to learn a foreign language, it’s best to immerse yourself into the environment that speaks that language. I find coding is the same. Throw yourself into a project you are passionate about and push yourself to learn the skill as you are using it to make whatever you’re building.
Can you tell us about the businesses you made before Prodsight where you used coding to make money for the first time?
My first proper business idea was Drum Space which I launched in 2009. It was an online drum store where I was buying and selling second-hand drums, cymbals and accessories. To get it started I taught myself PHP, SQL, HTML and CSS so I could build my online storefront. I used a lot of off-the-shelf frameworks and modules like OsCommerce but I dug into the code to customise it for my needs and make it look good. It was a good side-business which covered my rent and enabled me to learn about the practical side of business and programming.
I wanted to move on to a more scalable business idea where I wouldn’t have to handle physical stock so I got together with some friends at the university and built Studyman - a social network for universities which helped students discover societies and events on campus. Sadly, we couldn’t monetise this idea so we pivoted it to an event aggregator and discovery platform called Eventhread. The codebase got even more complex as I had to build a complex data ingestion algorithm that pulled event details via from Ticketmaster and other APIs. On top of that, I developed a personalisation engine which generated event recommendations based on user interests and even found friends to go to events with based on mutual interests.
As the graduation was approaching I made a tough call to park the side businesses. They weren’t generating a lot of money and I wanted to upskill myself by working with more people than just my cofounders.
After graduating I became a Product Manager. I worked at a mobile development agency Kotikan working on a brand new product for the hourly worker market which became a spin-out company Yavi.
As a Product Manager, I was obsessed with customer research and making sure that I fully understand our customer needs and prioritise the most impactful features. That meant that I spent a lot of time interviewing and surveying customers, reading support tickets and making spreadsheets. I couldn’t find any good dedicated tools to help me with the analysis process which gave me the idea for Prodsight. After interviewing about 30 other product managers I quit Yavi and struck on my own again.
Prodsight consists of three major components: the data ingestion system, the analysis algorithm and the visualisation dashboard. It directly integrates with popular customer feedback sources like Intercom and Zendesk and syncs support tickets with Prodsight. We then automatically analyse this data to extract frequently mentioned topics and assess the sentiment of each message. On top of this data sits a web-app which our customers use to discover and monitor customer topic trends and gain context into customer issues.
I spent the first year building the early prototypes of Prodsight to acquire our first customers and prove that it was a valid business idea. However, I knew that in order to make it work we had to bring Natural Language Processing (NLP) technology into the mix. Since I wasn’t an expert in NLP I decided to raise investment and hire an engineer and a data scientist to build the right product. This was the right choice as the guys I brought onboard built a scalable and powerful product which enabled us to acquire customers like Code for America and Catapult, grow revenue and raise follow-on funding to further scale the business.
I view coding as a tool to make things happen. To get Prodsight to the next level I need to use another set of tools. Our codebase is now too complex for me to understand and contribute to so I leave it to our engineers and instead focus on areas where I can add most value like strategy, product management, fundraising and hiring.
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We have just closed a $0.5m round to grow the team, build new integrations and make the product even better for our current and future customers. I’m excited to bring clarity on user needs to other product managers around the world and help them make better decisions for their customers.
Thanks for the interview! If you want to discuss it with other coders then hop on over to the forum on slack. You can join for free when you get on the mailing list.
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