Written by The Business Journal Staff
Eric Santos, Founder and CEO
What you do: I am the CEO of Benchmark Intelligence, which is a venture-backed startup that helps restaurant and retail chains understand why certain locations perform better than others. I am in charge of maintaining our vision, sales, making sure there is money in our banking account and hiring incredibly talented people.
Education: B.S, business & administration (entrepreneurship) – Fresno State
Family: Three brothers and two amazing parents
How did you get involved in technology, Eric Santos?
My senior year at Fresno State in the entrepreneurship program, we had to create a business in order to graduate. Leading up to my senior year, I had no idea of what type of business I was going to start until I saw the film Social Network (movie about Facebook) a couple weeks before the start of the semester. I was inspired by the fact that you can start a billion dollar company out of your dorm room equipped with nothing but some hustlers, hackers and some laptops. The only problem was that I knew nothing about technology or how to write code.
I decided to find a business partner that knew how to write code and start my first tech startup Soshowise, which was a marketplace where you can pay for video chats with experts in various subjects. It was a steep learning curve, but I read every piece of literature I could on how to be a non-technical co-founder.
How did you go from working in the tech industry to starting your own business, Eric Santos?
I was able to find some mild success with Soshowise including winning a big startup competition in SF along with some prize money from PayPal. They believed out of all the startups at that competition, we had the most potential. I was also able to raise some very modest funding from local angel investors.
Soshowise eventually failed by never establishing product market fit and I ended up taking a position at the largest tech company in town, Decipher (acquired by FocusVision). By the time Soshowise failed, I was hooked on tech.
In a little less than four years, I worked my way up to various positions including survey design assistant, project manager, account manager, sales and customer success. At Decipher I got experience working with data analytics, working with Fortune 500 companies and learning the ins and outs of software as a service (Saas). These are all skills that I attribute to our success with Benchmark Intelligence thus far.
I met my current co-founders Ken Koontz and Brandon Reid while working at Decipher and our last day at Decipher was February 19, 2015, the next day we packed our bags and moved to Boulder, CO.
How did you come up with the idea for Benchmark Intelligence?
The idea for Benchmark Intelligence actually came from another co-founder who was working in the automotive industry and realized car manufacturers had very little visibility regarding what was going on at the dealership level in terms of customer experience. They were using very biased surveys at the time that we wanted to eliminate through software. That co-founder came to us (Ken, Brandon and I) to start the company with him due to our background in market research and data analytics.
We worked on Benchmark Intelligence for about four months part-time before we quit our jobs to move to Boulder to attend our first startup accelerator, Boomtown. While at Boomtown, we refined the concept of Benchmark and decided to go after the multi-unit restaurant industry versus the automotive vertical.
Tell us a little more about Benchmark Intelligence software and how it works.
Benchmark Intelligence is SaaS that helps retail chains measure and improve the customer experience of all their locations. We collect customer intelligence data in a variety of ways including SMS customer comments, social media listening and field surveys. Our SMS customer comments product, which allows customers to text in comments about their experience, has proven to help curb against negative reviews and increase customer feedback rates by over 1,000 percent.
What is next for the company; what are your goals?
We raised $500,000 in venture funding back in June. We’ve used that money to grow our team so that we can grow our sales. What’s next for us is to continue to sell, specifically to enterprise customers. We’ve had some success working with SMB’s, and now we want to work with national retailers. We are currently piloting with a couple of Fortune 500 companies right now.
What advice would you give to fellow entrepreneurs trying to launch a business?
Always put customers first. Don’t focus on trying to raise funding too early. Instead focus on building a viable product and find some early adopters to purchase the product and validate what you’re building. I see too many entrepreneurs focus on building business plans versus rolling their sleeves up and start building the business first. Investors will come when you’re making waves.
Who or what has been the biggest influence on your career?
My father by far has had the biggest influence on my career. I’m the first in my family to graduate from college and that’s largely attributed to my dad having had always stressed the importance of education while growing up.
The leadership team at Decipher/FocusVision also had a huge influence on my career, specifically the co-founders Jamin Brazil and Jayme Plunkett. They were both pioneers in terms of technology companies in Fresno and they have created the most successful tech company in the whole central valley. I don’t believe they get enough credit for what they have done.
I always looked up to them while working for them and I knew one day I would follow in their shoes.
What are your roots in the Central Valley, Eric Santos?
I was born and raised in Visalia and moved to Fresno to attend Fresno State seven years ago. I’ve lived in the Central Valley my whole life with the exception of 2015, which I lived half the time in Boulder, and the other half in Cincinnati attending two awesome startup accelerators.
What was your first job, Eric Santos? Describe something you learned from that first job.
At 16 years old, I got my first job working at Jack In The Box. There I learned the importance of customer service and how to deal with angry people. Honestly, everyone should probably work in fast food for at least a couple of months.
What do you like to do in your spare time, Eric Santos?
I am a part-time writer for AskMen.com, so writing is definitely a passion of mine. I am also a competitive powerlifter and have a meet coming up in December, so right now training is definitely one of my outside of work priorities.