Interview with Daniel Chalef (KnowledgeTree)
KnowledgeTree is an online document management solution.
I interviewed Daniel Chalef, KnowledgeTree co-founder to find out more. This is the hundred and forty fourth in a series of DW startup interviews. Big thank you to Daniel!
Describe KnowledgeTree in under 50 words.
KnowledgeTree delivers actionable insight into your business content. With our cloud-based tools sales teams reuse their best proposals, marketing surfaces great collateral, and operations teams realign document-led processes.
Describe yourself in one sentence.
I am committed to surrounding myself with talented, curious, and engaged people that improve me, our company, and our world.
What’s your background? What inspired you to start working on KnowledgeTree?
I’ve always been a geek, having started programming on a Sinclair ZX80 when I was 4 or 5 years old. By the time I was in college in the 1990s, I was working as a network developer for South Africa’s first commercial internet access provider, and studying for a business degree (although with a technology focus).
A few years out of college, I was hired as the CTO of a systems integrator, where we built content management applications for large European and South African companies. The application gained significant traction, and that momentum lead to us launching KnowledgeTree as an independent solution.
Was it an easy decision to make the move from your home country of South Africa to the USA?
On a business level, the United States provides an outstanding platform for starting a business. It offers access to talented technical and business staff. It provides ready access to capital at different stages of company maturity — from early seed rounds to more advanced Series B and C. And it simplifies access to the largest market in the world with an enormous mid-market of companies that are hungry for innovative technologies that give them business advantages. We are in an enviable position, being headquartered in the US, and with an outstanding engineering team in our Cape Town offices.
Leaving my friends and family, and the familiarity of home behind was of course a challenge! I am however navigating the transition fairly well, and enjoying the opportunities that the US presents.
What roles did you and the team undertake in the beginning? Have they changed much?
Early in KnowledgeTree’s history we all wore many hats. As the team has grown, new team members have joined to take over key responsibilities in product, sales, and more. This has allowed me to focus more on strategic planning, partnerships, and stakeholder management.
What would you suggest is the primary difference to the end user between a SaaS cloud offering and a locally managed install?
Value to the business. Obviously there are cost advantages that come into play — SaaS allows business users to move software from a capital expense to an operating expense. But the real advantages are centered around solving business pains. SaaS enables business teams to set up, customize, and manage tools that help them address specific business problems without depending on IT or lengthy development cycles.
Customers of ours like Miramax and Software AG are able to get insight out of their business content. That means on Day 1 their sales and marketing teams are instantly able to find and reuse their best collateral, presentations, and more. That liberation has uncorked a massive amount of productivity gains for business users.
We’ve actually summarized the value that companies see from what we call “The New Enterprise Software“.
What appealed most about being your own boss?
KnowledgeTree has a very clear vision of the value we bring to our customers. Being my own boss let me focus on realizing that vision. It is very important to me that we build technology that delivers real value to customers. Being my own boss lets me avoid obstacles that get in the way of that mission. At the same time, we have been fortunate to have investors, a board, and team that are equally committed to helping companies realize this vision.
What technologies have you used to build KnowledgeTree?
KnowledgeTree is a software-as-a-service technology. That means that we can take advantage of other SaaS technologies to extend our reach — via ecosystems or through infrastructure. But I think what is more important than the technology, is what else was used to build the business: great customers, a great team, and lots of data. We measure everything, and that allows us to understand what tools resonate with customers and hence, where building should be focused.
Has your initial vision changed since you first launched?
From the very beginning our focus has been on helping companies turn their business content into assets. We have never varied from that mission. The technical approach may have been refined. But our dedication to helping sales, marketing, and other business users get the most value out of their content has never changed.
Who uses KnowledgeTree? Any big clients on your list?
Nearly 500 global companies depend on KnowledgeTree to get insight into their business content. Companies like Alcatel, Genesys, Miramax, Papa John’s, Panera Bread, and others. Within our customers we see strong traction among sales, marketing, and project office teams. These are groups that depend on building, approving, and reusing great content across their organizations.
With the trend in mobile applications taking off, are you gearing up for these changes in the way content is managed?
Mobile absolutely changes the way people interact with their content. Sales and marketing teams are frequently on the move — at customer sites, conferences, etc. Obviously these teams need access to their content, but their needs go well beyond simple access. They need to know what content matters, what content should be used in a given situation. That’s what gets me excited about mobile.
What do you wish you’d have known 5 years ago that you know now?
A start-up is a journey. You are going to make mistakes, learn from them but don’t agonize over them. And you’re not alone. Founding a start-up is lonely, but there are plenty of other start-up folks you can connect with that share similar passions, and challenges, and connecting with them can make the world of a difference.
Has KnowledgeTree got the feedback and growth you expected since launch?
Yes. The best feedback on product / market fit always comes from customers. We have been fortunate to have a product that customers want. That show in our rapid growth to nearly 500 customers. As excited as we are by that growth, we think it has only started.
Last year Network World named KnowledgeTree as one of the 10 SaaS companies to watch. Where do you see KnowledgeTree in 5 years time?
Content is at the heart of every business. Marketing creates collateral. Sales builds and reuses proposals. And project teams review plans. And as the volume of business content grows exponentially, the need to capture the value embedded within this content is exploding. We see ourselves riding that wave over the next 5 years by providing insight into these content assets. Insights that help teams reuse and focus on their best content.
Would you say you are you quite an organised person?
Organized in my work life, but oy vey, you should see my closet! ;)
What one piece of advice would you give to someone starting up?
Surround yourself with successful people, set a clear direction, and let them do the great things that smart people do.
What are you most excited about at the moment?
Being part of a high performance team, and being witness to the energy and creativity that the team brings to hard problems. We continue to grow the KnowledgeTree team, and I continue to be wow’ed by what the team achieves.
Can you convince the reader to start using KnowledgeTree in under 50 words?
Have you ever struggled to find great, approved content for a sales proposal? Do you know which marketing presentations have the highest ROI? KnowledgeTree’s insight helps teams instantly find and easily reuse their best content to drive more sales.
Finished reading? Check out KnowledgeTree!