Aderson Oliveira: I've spoken with LeadGenius' CEO, Prayag Narula, about what crowdsourcing is and what a key element it has been to the success of LeadGenius. We have discussed about the human side of crowds and crowdsourcing and the fact that, for a crowdsourcing program to work well, you have to create a sense of community behind the scenes, and people are not faceless individuals. They have names, they have faces, you have to give them their human identity. He is also very passionate and positive about the future of work, and the fact that, now, you can have people working from all over the globe. It doesn't matter how far they are; they can be in small villages all over the place. They don't need to leave their place of origin to find great work. Watch or listen to this so you can find out what crowdsourcing really is.
Hello, hello, Aderson Oliveira here. This is another interview for the OuchSourcing Podcast where I talk to experts, to business leaders, to people that know a lot about outsourcing and subjects around the topic of outsourcing like crowdsourcing. Today, I have with me, Prayag Narula. He is the CEO of LeadGenius, which is a company focused on top-of-the-funnel marketing automation. Prayag, thank you very much for being here. Welcome.
Prayag Narula: Thank you, Aderson, it's great to be here.
Aderson: Prayag, let's start with LeadGenius. Talk a little bit about LeadGenius, what it is, and then we're going to talk about crowdsourcing, but start with LeadGenius.
Prayag: Absolutely. So, as you mentioned, LeadGenius is top-of-the-funnel marketing automation. What we call ourselves is a market insight and lead generation company. So, what we help our customers do is, first of all, help understand who the right customers are, what are the right markets to go after as they start a new initiative, or a new product, or a new go-to-market strategy, and then map out that entire market so that they can sell to all the right decision-makers. That's, in short, LeadGenius.
Aderson: I have to tell you, I have seen your name and LeadGenius' name a lot on quite a few podcasts. I watched This Week in Tech and This Week in Startups, and they all mentioned about LeadGenius. I said, "Hey, I'll be talking to Prayag, really?" so I'm very excited to be here.
Prayag: I share your enthusiasm.
Aderson: Okay, so let's link this back to outsourcing, and the link back to outsourcing, really, here is about crowdsourcing, which is a topic that we have never explored here on the outsourcing podcast before. Let's first cover the basics here. What is crowdsourcing?
Prayag: Crowdsourcing, in essence, is basically, you can call it "distributed outsourcing". So, instead of having a dedicated, full-time workforce that's located in one geographic area, you have a workforce that's fully distributed, it's a lot more flexible, that can set their own hours. Essentially, think of crowdsourcing versus outsourcing as Lyft versus traditional taxi companies. Traditional taxi companies is outsourcing to a group of dedicated individuals that take you from one place to another, and Lyft or Uber is doing that with distributed crowd of people who might not be doing this full-time or may be doing it full-time, but are definitely kind of a lot more flexible. It brings out all the advantages of flexibility of the instant connection that internet has enabled us to do and brings that to outsourcing.
Aderson: Now, let's talk about crowdsourcing in context to LeadGenius. How do you leverage crowdsourcing?
Prayag: Our model is actually very unique in the market. We use a combination of AI software and then combine it with a crowd of people that helps -- seeing the AI that helps kind of validate the output, that helps augment the output. So, think about it this way: if a customer comes to us and says, "Hey, I'm looking for prospects in such and such industry and I want to understand who those prospects are. I want to sell to them."
First of all, our software along with our crowd would help them understand who the right buyers are, and once the right buyers have been identified, you have to identify individual people that are going to be involved in that buying process, right? Our, basically, software that we're bringing output of, "Aderson is a potential buyer of your software," then a crowd is going to go and say, "Here are some of the characteristics that the software didn't know about Aderson. Here is Aderson's email that might -- software has produced his Gmail address that's not right. Let's produce Aderson's DNN address." So, it's basically a seamless integration between the scale of software and AI with the personalization and intuition of human intelligence, right? That's where the crowd comes in and provides that human intelligence.
Aderson: Let me recap this. What I understand is that, on a workflow that needs to be delivered to your client, some parts of that workflow are automated, and most likely using AI, using software, using computing, and some parts of that workflow are manually done by human beings, correct?
Prayag: That's exactly the idea of looking at it, and these workflows can be implemented to a wide variety of application. We are primarily focused on top-of-the-funnel marketing and sales opportunity.
Aderson: Let's talk a little bit about those people from the crowd. Are they specialized, are they generalists, are they data punchers? Who are those people?
Prayag: That's a great question. To answer that question in its essence, let me go back a little bit and talk about the history of LeadGenius. LeadGenius was founded in UC Berkeley, which is about two blocks from where I'm sitting right now, and the idea was we've been kind of studying crowdsourcing as a way to augment machines, to augment AI and machine learning, and we said, "There's another angle to crowdsourcing, which is providing job opportunities to people who might not, because of their geography, because of where they are in their life, be able to participate in the traditional workforce."
Think about housewives in Pakistans that were, at one point, part of a crowd, or people who had to move back to their villages after getting education, say, in India. People like that who have access to internet, who have access to technology and computers and are good with it, providing them access to flexible work was why we started the company.
Now, we can extrapolate from there to who these people are and what they're specialized. We don't hire specialized people per se. I will say that if you have experience with sales or marketing, you'll be a lot more successful in our crowd than people who don't, but that's not necessarily a requirement. I mean, our requirement, essentially, is to be aptly educated. So, you have to have a college degree, or an equal one, or a bachelor's, or an associate degree, and then you should also be fluent with technology, and you should understand how to use the internet, how to master Google search, how to use all these web applications.
Those are kind of the requirements, and then there are a lot of soft skills that are appreciated. You have to collaborate. Remember, we are now in 45 different countries, so you have to collaborate with people from 45 different countries, so you should be able, you should have good command over English, you should be collaborative, you should be excited and interested in other people, the way different cultures work, and those are all kind of the requirements that we have.
Aderson: You mentioned a few numbers there. You said that you are in over 40 countries. If you can share that with us, if you cannot, that's fine, but how many people are involved within your crowd?
Prayag: In total, we are about 1,000 people, some of them are working part-time, some of them are working full-time. It's probably less than 1,000, but I'm including everyone that has kind of joined the community in the last few years. To give you a much better insight into that, we pay out over $5 million a year to our crowd.
Aderson: That brings me to a follow-up question. You kind of brushed through that that you had some full-time people, part-time people. Most of them are part-timers, you would say?
Prayag: I think it's a split. When we first started out, we were initially thinking that people would work part-time with us or full-time with us regularly, and then move into traditional local jobs, and we saw that that never happened. Some people do and a lot of people kind of just stayed in the crowd and built their careers in our crowd. So, I would say it's a good split. There are a lot of people that are full-time, there are some people that are part-time. Some people swing from being part-time to full-time and back.
Aderson: Not that this is really required, but I'm trying to make a differentiation between crowdsourcing and what a traditional freelancer would do for you. Let me ask you this. If I pick from that 1,000-people crowd, if I pick any two people from that crowd, are they doing the same things? Are they executing, more or less, the same tasks, if I pick any two of them randomly?
Prayag: That's correct.
Prayag: Randomly, there's a good chance that they'll go to be doing the same kind of work.
Aderson: Great. So, we have 1,000 people working in your crowd. Now, do you go proactively recruiting more individuals? How does the recruiting side of that crowd look like?
Prayag: That's a great question. Let me expand the question a little bit and talk a little bit about our model. I think I alluded to that when I talked about how some of the people build careers inside a LeadGenius crowd. What I mean by that, when I said, at random, if you picked two people, they'll be doing the same kind of work, that's absolutely correct, except that if you've been doing the same kind of work and you've been producing good results and have been a good upstanding member of the community, you get to move up the ladder, which means that you get to become a part of a much smaller community within the community that does other things, like managing people, like providing support, and like hiring people.
We would rely on our own experienced members of the crowd to go and hire people like them, and we provide them software, we provide them tools, we provide them even a budget to do this. But, there is a dedicated group inside our crowd whose job is to interview, and grade, and test, and create a lead flow for everyone who wants to work with us.
Aderson: You mentioned a few times, community, community, community. When I think about crowdsourcing, I think about there's a bunch of people, they don't know each other, they have no relationship between each other, and they are all different people without too much coordination between them. But, you give me a different vibe there, a different feeling there. Is there a sense of community from that crowd? Talk a little bit about the community side, because again, you highlighted community a few times. Talk a little bit about the community side of that.
Prayag: That's a great question. When we were doing research back in UC Berkeley, we had already kind of figured out that any kind of higher-level work, especially in B2B application, you cannot do that by just a more transactional crowd. You cannot do that in the way Mechanical Turk works, or even Upwork works, to be honest. It's a very transactional relationship. The way to build the right kind of crowd is to build collaboration within the crowd itself so that they can help each other, they can provide support with each other.
It does several things. One, it makes everybody's lives easier. It makes the crowd researchers' lives, it makes the crowdsourcers' lives easier. At the same time, it helps us because it increases the length of how long people stay with us. It's not a transactional relationship. You're not working with nameless, faceless people and competing with them. It's a real community. It's a community that expands, that is bigger than European Union. It's a community that is in 45 different countries where people kind of come together, and help each other, and at the same time, solve these business problems.
That has really helped us create an ecosystem that is very productive and that is super-effective at what we do, and I think that's the model of crowdsourcing that the future, especially if you want to do more complicated workflows and more complicated type of workflows. It will work if it's simple stuff, it will work if it's driving something from point A to B, but for creating long-term value, you have to build that community.
Aderson: Of course, there is a central point of coordination. You are an organization and you coordinate this crowd. You give me the impression that they also self-organize themselves. Is that correct as well?
Prayag: That's exactly correct. There is self-organization. We actually learn from the self-organization. We saw that self-organization was happening. We tried to build on it, and as we provide more and more tools, that self-organization became stronger and stronger and the results got better.
That's what we wrote several research papers in grad school to this new model, and we saw that the most widely-cited research comes from people who founded LeadGenius around crowdsourcing, and that was the central pieces. It has to be a community that you're building, and I'm sure it's as effective in crowdsourcing as it is in outsourcing. I'm sure, in outsourcing too, you cannot treat people as nameless, faceless entities. They have to be part of a bigger purpose. That's the only way to get the best out of human beings, and that's as valid if you're all sitting around in one office in India or Philippines as you are if you're in 45 different countries around the world in dozens, hundreds of time zones.
Aderson: A lot of what you mentioned, Prayag, is about managing that crowd. Is there anything else about managing that crowd that you want to highlight as well, any other point?
Prayag: Absolutely. I think I alluded to that in my initial all the stuff I said previously, the crowd itself needs help, needs support, and the way to do that is building some sort of hierarchical system within the crowd where more experienced people get to move out and move into more management roles where they're helping other people, where they're providing support, where they're directly interfacing with their clients and they're presenting the community. We are all of that in this organization.
It's a very dynamic, fully distributed, almost like a company. We have an HR, and we have a recruiting, and we have managers, and all that stuff, so it's a very dynamic organization, and it's fully-distributed and fairly fungible, which is really nice, and very flexible.
Aderson: I'm curious to picture, Prayag, what would be a typical day of, maybe, a part-timer or a full-timer. Are you able to describe what does a typical day look like for one of those individuals?
Prayag: Absolutely. Typically, at the beginning of the week, we expect you to at least tell us when you would be available. You can set your own hours, and you can tell us, you can set whatever time you want to work. You have to tell us so that we know that somebody's going to be working on a campaign. We call it campaign as kind of think of one product. So, at the end of the week, those campaigns would be distributed among the people that are working on it, or the next week.
Typically, we would like to do a repeat, so if you're working on a previous campaign before, you are working on the same campaign again, and typically, you would continue to work on one campaign for a decently long amount of time. You'll come in and you'll either have a new campaign that's in your cube, or you have a campaign that's already working on it, assuming they're working already on a campaign. You basically have an interface that we have provided on which you log in. There's a Chrome extension that you'll use.
You'll use, basically, these technologies to -- your work has already kind of been defined and assigned to you, and you'll go one-by-one, that work has been distributed among -- typically, you're working with a team of anywhere between 4 to 40 to 100 people working together on one campaign. You'll come in, you'll have an interface there which requires you to enter some data, or fix some data, and you'll do that for the amount of time allocated. If you have questions, you have your manager that you have been assigned to, you go ask that manager some questions, they can answer a question. You have a real-time chat that's running in the background that you can go and kind of talk to, and there's some banter that goes on there as well.
That's basically your day, and once you're done with the amount of work that was assigned to you that, at the end of your, what we call, shifts or whatever timing you have set, you're done and then it's -- sometimes, actually, it's time to go and meet your friends who are part of the local community. Here in Serbia, Serbia has a huge community of LeadGenius researchers, and you'll go hang out with them offline. So, it doesn't end when you just -- but, typically that's kind of what it is.
Aderson: I would like to step back a little bit, Prayag, and talk a little bit about -- not that I want to create a crowd, nor anybody that would be watching this wants to create a crowd, but I'm curious about that, which is how do you put together a crowd program like that, because it seems like you guys have been very mindful from the very beginning, and you established -- it's not that you stumble across crowdsourcing, no. It seems like it was a decision from the get-go to you guys. Can you talk a little bit about how you form that initial program, and not only that, but also what are the challenges involved in getting a program like that started off the ground?
Prayag: That's a great question, and to be honest, I would like people to build crowdsourcing programs. I think the future is not just software or AI. It's a combination, it's seamlessly integrating what computers can do best with human intuition at scale. I guarantee, in 20 years, all software will be getting lighter, and it's important to be able to build that crowd. I'm sure that it will be specialized. Nobody else will have to do this from scratch as we do, but it's the future of the world, so I'd definitely like people to kind of learn and know how to do this.
Coming back to the question of, "How do you build the crowd from scratch?" It's about building a community like you build communities any other way. Basically, you find out the early adopters, you make them your champion, you help them integrate and prove to them they have thought of something bigger. You bring them together and you let them be your champion within their other local communities, and you then give them tools to be those champions.
It's about seeding a community, finding your greatest assets, your greatest fans, and then using them to kind of build those network effects. That's what we do, and that's what we did, and that has worked out so well.
Aderson: Love that. Very good explanation there, and again, I was really looking for something high level. You mentioned about AI, and I had a point here, I had the note here, I said, "Hey, should I ask this?" I should. Sometimes, when we are using people with AI, it feels like people become a stepping stone into what AI cannot do yet. AI cannot handle this part yet, okay so let's put a human there. In the meantime, we're going to be working behind the scenes, and nothing wrong with that, but you're going to be working behind the scenes to see, "Can we automate that part? How can we, for lack of better words, replace that manual staff there by intelligent bot, intelligent piece of code that will do that better, faster, more precise?" Tell me a little bit about that if you're comfortable with the question.
Prayag: That's a great question. That's a very interesting question too. In the AI community, there is kind of this belief, and I'm paraphrasing, given enough training data, anything can be automated. I don't think that's necessarily true. I don't think that's actually true in a lot of things that the way we operate in our day-to-day lives. That's why we are at a place where we have companies that are AI, but what they are doing is in the background, they have people that are doing most of what they do, and they're hiding that. They're hiding that fact, and for good measure too.
To be honest, a lot of companies that have used people or used crowdsourcing take advantage of their crowd. They're not in it to build a community, they're not in it for the welfare of the people that work with them. For them, they are just machines, and there are a lot of companies like that. Mechanical Turk is basically, essentially, a farm for being treated poorly as a crowd member, as a worker.
CrowdFlower, CrowdFlower is an abomination. It's like the biggest community, or biggest crowdsourcing company that came to exist, and working for them is awful. It's just like it's one of the worst experiences you would ever have as doing any kind of work is working on a click farm at CrowdFlower, and it's just ridiculous. It makes my blood boil. It makes me so upset just talking about it.
The right way to do this is -- here is the thing. I see the value of AI. I absolutely do. I published papers that were published in AI research, right? I'm a system engineer by training. So, I have a lot of faith in AI and machine learning, but what I think is you will never be able to automate 100% of especially B2B where things are complicated and stakes are high. You will never have 100% AI doing 100% of the stuff. You'd always have humans. Why put humans behind the scenes? Why not come out and say, "Hey, we use this really cool way to integrate humans in this AI system that we have built"? Why not do that? The reason companies don't do that is because they don't want the public to find out that they treat people behind the scenes so poorly.
The solution isn't to put them in the background. The solution is to treat them well, build a community. These people are going to be your best asset, so anybody's who's listening who's kind of thinking about using the crowd in their software, or building crowdsourcing or even building outsourcing, build a community. These are people, these are actual human beings. They have birthdays, and they have families, and they have good days and bad days, and if you're providing work to them, it's your responsibility to make sure that you're at least trying to make their life better. That will be my message to everybody listening today.
Aderson: Love the passion, love the answer there, Prayag, really appreciate that. Let me ask you this. We are in a new economy, in a new freelancing economy, outsourcing economy, remote economy, people working from home, people working from their remote locations. What excites you when you put into perspective the future of work that we see going on the next 5 to 10 years? What excites you about that?
Prayag: I think our model, the combination of AI plus human intuition is the future. Now, that is an amazing world because what that means is that you can be sitting in the suburbs of Colombo in Sri Lanka and providing value to a company in the Bay Area. You don't have to always move or you don't have to be in these economic hotspots to add value, and that's an amazing world. That's a world in which there is a lot more fairness in the world.
Just because you won the lottery of being born in a big city or a big economic powerhouse, if you haven't won that lottery, it doesn't mean that you don't contribute, or it doesn't mean that your contributions are weighed any less. We've proven in the recent political climate, that's what's causing all the problems, right? If you were born somewhere in the middle of the country, nobody knows Alabama, you have to either move, or you have to be okay with making less money, or you have to be okay with being kind of valued less economically than someone who was born through rich parents in San Francisco or New York, and that's going to change because it's going to be a lot more fair economy. If you can add value from anywhere, then your value is dependent on how much you want to do, and how much effort you're wanting to put in.
I'm not saying that the advantages of where you're born, part of this lottery of birth are going to go away, but they're going to at least be weighed a lot less, which is what I'm excited about. I think this is the future, and I think they're moving towards it, and that's the need of the hour.
Aderson: Just a quick parenthesis, I come from a very small town in Brazil, and when I look at them and I spoke with the local university, I said, "You know what, guys, right now, you don't need to leave your city to get some great work out there. You can work from your home, you can work from your place." Again, very aligned to what you were talking about, very aligned to what excites you. So, very refreshing to hear that from you, Prayag.
We're coming towards an end here. I would like you to think for a second, and you mentioned so many great things here, but I would like you to think for a second of what is the one thing that you'd like people to leave this conversation knowing about? I mean, what is the one thing that you want people to leave knowing more about?
Prayag: If you're interested in crowdsourcing or even outsourcing, remember you are in business of people. You're not in the business of servers, and you're not dealing with automatons. You're dealing with people. So, my message to anyone who is interested or is building a crowd, or interested in building software that uses crowd, or interested in outsourcing, these are people that you're dealing with. Make sure you show that empathy and treat them right. Build the community, take time to get to know them, and treat them well. It's important for us, it's important for everyone, and it's the right thing to do. So, just do the right thing and treat these people well. That would be my message.
Aderson: Awesome message. Before I let you go, I would like you to take the opportunity just to once again plug LeadGenius, what is it that you guys do, how can people reach out to you or just go to the website. Plug LeadGenius, please.
Prayag: Absolutely. LeadGenius helps companies like eBay, and Google, and Square, and tons of really big and small companies around the world, it helps them grow faster by helping them find their best customers and helping them find their best market, and we do that while providing job opportunities to people around the world. So, if you are an executive who's looking to grow your business line, get in touch with us. We are firstname.lastname@example.org, or come to our website, www.leadgenius.com, and love to talk to anyone who's interested.
Aderson: Perfect. As usual, all the links will be posted in the show notes. Prayag, I'm so thankful for your time, for your willingness to share about the ins and outs of how you build crowdsourcing within LeadGenius. I mean, very, very glad that we had this conversation, and very hopeful with the future that you pictured there for workers all over the globe. Thank you very much for your time.
Prayag: Thank you. It was an absolute pleasure.
Aderson: Bye now.