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THE CPQ PODCAST - INTERVIEW WITH DMITRI LEICHIK
Frank: Welcome to the Сonfigure Price Quote podcast. My name is Frank Sohn and I'm the founder of Novus CPQ Consulting. This podcast is 100% focused on configure price quote, also known as CPQ and will provide you useful insights into this topic.
My guest today is Dmitri Leichik, CEO and founder of Sculptor CPQ, as well as co-owner of Twistellar Group. Sculptor is a new Salesforce native solution that offers bundling basic configuration as well as interactive quoting capabilities. Dmitri has over 20 years of business experience and the headquarters of his company, Twistellar, is in Copenhagen, Denmark. Welcome to the podcast, Dmitri.
Dmitri: Hello. Nice to meet you. And yeah, hello to the audience.
Frank: Very excited to have you, Dmitri. Please tell our listeners a little bit more about yourself and what you did before you started Sculptor, I think, in 2021.
Dmitri: Yeah, actually, I started together with my cofounding partners, our Salesforce consulting company, Twistellar, even a bit earlier. It was in 2017, but before that I was for 15 years, Co-owning and managing a group of trading and manufacturing companies in Eastern Europe. And I paid a lot of attention to business automation in my previous company. So, I just wanted to apply my expertise of knowing business processes and typical stakeholder expectations of IT projects and help other companies to automate with Salesforce. So, I have plenty of experience and background of managing companies from real sector of economy in sales, wholesale trade, and I know a lot how complicated products are configured and sold. That is why in 2021 we had an idea to build our own app.
Frank: And what was the driver for building the app? You already had a company - Twistellar.
Dmitri: You know, domain is quite a challenging thing and people usually have to learn a lot and train a lot to be able to use typical enterprise scale, powerful CPQ solutions, applications, packages. And to tell the truth, we were quite often involved in CPQ implementations and noticed the kind of a niche on the market of companies who are not already satisfied with the out of the box capabilities of CRM product configuration, I mean Salesforce CPQ in particular, they wanted already to apply certain pricing policies to apply certain product configuration rules and automations, and they were a bit afraid of Salesforce CPQ or any other enterprise scale CPQ solutions because they are powerful, they are extremely capable, but they actually make you learn things. We wanted to create something in between some solution that would help them, these companies, to automate on their journey and help them to see what CPQ domain is, try to apply certain CPQ functionality to their processes and then work with Sculptor afterwards. If they are happy, if they want further scale, if they want certain higher complexity, they can always switch to something larger, something bigger, such as Salesforce CPQ or whatever. So, we thought that there is quite a good segment of the market that could benefit on Sculptor CPQ, and that's how we had an idea to actually develop such a tool.
Frank: Got it. Very cool. One question. So, with Twistellar, the CPQ tools that you focused on, that's mostly Salesforce CPQ, or is there any other tool that you work with as well?
Dmitri: Yeah, mostly we focus on Salesforce CPQ. We are great adopters or I would say supporters. We are fans of Salesforce as a platform. That's why we always try to focus our solutions around Salesforce capabilities. And for those companies who wanted to automate their processes, definitely from us, Salesforce CPQ was always the natural choice. So yeah, Salesforce CPQ at most.
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Frank: Got it. Got it. Now since you know the space already quite a bit. So, what's the CPQ development that surprised you in the last 12 months? Anything with the customers that you see that was really surprising.
Dmitri: You know, we still think that there's plenty of opportunity to further leverage the interactive channels of collaborating with customers because on the background in Salesforce itself, you can have sophisticated, powerful and complex rules of quoting pricing, automation, product configuration, automation. But to me it was always a bit surprising that still the way to exchange these offerings, these quotes, these proposals is a bit outdated because mostly people still tend to either send emails with PDF templates, with some quotes, some, you know, rendered documents with the offering that may cause confusion, that may lead to the need to exchange multiple emails with different versions of the proposal. And people can easily lose what they actually offered or received from a vendor. So, I would say that still a surprise to me is that not many CPQ solutions built natively on Salesforce actually provide such a way of distributing a quote that Sculptor CPQ does.
Frank: And when you look at this right now. So, there's lots of things that happening in the CPQ space with additional technologies and stuff like this. What's the most exciting part for you in the CPQ space at this time and for the next, I have no idea, 6 to 12 months or so.
Dmitri: I think the most exciting thing would be still to learn to see those various approaches and really different policies that companies use to approach their customers. And it's really exciting because you never know what exactly you will be facing when you are speaking with a new business who want to adopt CPQ. And it always keeps you in certain, you know, excitement, certain passion. And that can be possible only when you actually love what you're doing. And that's what we do here at Twistellar. We really like helping people and it keeps us exciting that we really face new people who face new challenges. And Sculptor is quite successful in being able to adjust to all these challenges and expectations. So that's quite exciting for me.
Frank: And we will talk about Sculptor CPQ in a minute. But before we do that, I want to ask you, what do you do when you don't work?
Dmitri: I'm thinking about what I could do better while I'm working. I'm still quite a workaholic. And honestly speaking, it's probably nothing to boast with. But I really work a lot on the normal days of the week. I would say it's up to 14 hours per day, and I also work over weekends a bit less, but still. So, this is not the best area of accomplishment or achievement in my personal life. I still have to work on my work life balance. But yeah, to tell the truth, I'm always thinking about the work.
Frank: Yeah. Yeah. But in the five minutes that you have, are you going running? Are you doing interested in cultural stuff? Anything that stands out.
Dmitri: Trying to watch some movies, sometimes trying to read some books. I like science fiction books a lot because it helps me to distract. Sometimes I play computer games, so nothing, nothing special. I used to do sports a lot. I was a champion of arm wrestling and heavy lifting. Actually. But that's quite a long story. And I stopped doing sports quite a long time ago because I don't have time.
Frank: Oh, wow. Dmitri, I think you have to find really something with the work life balance. Anyway, let's switch gears a little bit and let's talk about Sculptor, right? So, since you spent most of the time there anyway, I guess so tell us a little bit about the product and service offering that you have, please.
Dmitri: Yeah. So, we tried to base Sculptor offering on two main pillars. One is the interface, because we believe that for complicated product configuration and complicated quoting process, the typical lightning interface of Salesforce and Salesforce CPQ, of course can be slightly improved. I mean, usually you want to have as much information as possible that you need to compose your quote on one screen, and that's what we try to do with Sculptor. We created an interface that will show you all the structured catalog of your products, all the list of the entities that you're working with, mean quotes or opportunities, and the actual content of the entity that you're currently working with, the record that you are editing, for instance, a quote or an opportunity in the center. So, the interface is very convenient, user friendly and built on the up-to-date lightning web components technology and is very, very fast to operate, supports drag and drop, supports momentarily saving of the records. So very quick to work with. The second main advantage is the powerful pricing engine. Again, the principle is the same. You have all the pricing and product configuration rules available on just one screen.
Dmitri: You can work with them conveniently from one place with drag and drop. It's a great difference from a typical complicated enterprise scale CPQ solution where you have to navigate through various configuration pages of the application to configure the automation that you need. And the third main pillar is this interactive quoting mechanism that allows you not only to send the PDF version of your quote generated as you are used to and attached to your email, but also to create a link with the interactive quote available to you, to your sales rep and the customer. And they are able to collaborate over this link on the nice-looking web page with the quote presented with all the necessary attachments, the ability to edit this quote to add or remove certain products if you allow that. So, it's a kind of a personal, small interactive website that allows you to open a completely new experience of collaborating over the quotes. So, these three advantages: interface, powerful pricing engine and very flexible one, by the way, and the interactive quoting interface are the three main components of the Sculptor CPQ offering.
Frank: Got it. And I also saw it during the demo, so it's very helpful. Now, one question. Why did you decide to build your solution on the Salesforce platform?
Dmitri: You know, first of all, we are focusing around Salesforce platform as a vendor, and we just try to be really professional around what we are doing. And that Salesforce currently is our focus. And also, we think that for a company it can be quite important to keep all the information about their actual commercial operations in just one system. Salesforce is absolutely secure and we thought it's quite natural to just build it on Salesforce because we first of all wanted for the companies who are already using Salesforce and, as you remember, they are still on probably their initial stage of getting adopted to CPQ as a concept, we thought that it will be easier not to convince them to actually trust their data to some other system and still help them to keep it in Salesforce, but get the access to all these benefits of the automation that Sculptor provides. So, we thought that it could be quite a natural way of reaching out to the market. Maybe it was not a very good idea, but that's what we are currently trying to do.
Frank: No, no, it makes perfect sense what you're saying. But now also a question that I thought about when you talked was are you also offering a transition from Salesforce customers who use potentially other solutions to use your solution?
Dmitri: Yeah, of course we can do that. Honestly speaking, we tried to make this process as simple as possible because Sculptor CPQ doesn't corrupt or doesn't change a lot. Your existing data model, it relies on the standard data model of Salesforce and creates just one custom object for a quote, because you cannot do what you need with all the attributes that we are using in Sculptor CPQ flows with the standard Salesforce quote objects. All other objects are completely the same. And that means that typically you can have your own sandbox or production instance. You can install Sculptor there and already start using it. It will pick up all the product groups that you have product lists. It will show it in this new interface and you will be able to already start composing your quotes. So yeah, sure, we can help with the transition either to the company that is not using any CPQ solution for now or to those of them who are using something else and would like to transit to Sculptor. Sure.
Frank: Got it. Got it. Now we’ve already mentioned Twistellar before. Right? So please explain to our listeners what the relationship is to Twistellar.
Dmitri: Yeah. I'm one of the three co-founders of Twistellar responsible for the overall company management for the strategic partner relations, participate as a business analyst in the most important projects. So yeah, Twistellar is actually the company that I run with my co-founding partners and I really keep hands close on everything that's going on there. We are not that large yet, around 100 and something people. So, I am still able to really know everything that's going on in all the processes. And that's what I'm trying to do, just trying to be quite a good CEO.
Frank: Got it. And what other third-party solutions do you integrate with out of the box like the CRM is obvious, the Salesforce, right. So, but ERP, PLM, CAD systems, anything else you want to mention here that yeah.
Dmitri: Sure, Sculptor can connect to anything because typically when you are integrating with some external system, you are mostly relating to some standard object. For instance, for an ERP, the most typical way to integrate with a CRM would be to pass over an order to ERP for further fulfillment and execution. And with Sculptor, you just embed it into the current quoting flow of a company, and the output of this flow can also be an order. You can just quickly configure and integrate an automation that will create an order out of a converted quote or an opportunity. And then this order is moved to ERP. Same connections, same links in the chains can be created for any other objects that have the reason to be moved to some external systems. So, from that standpoint, I would say that we can easily integrate with anything out of the box, but that's just because we didn't try to cover like literally the whole flow, including the transactional part of the sales flow with Sculptor. Sculptor is focusing on quoting process mainly and as the tool that automates the quoting, it can additionally be connected to any other objects as an output of this quoting flow to be connected to any external system easily.
Frank: And how long does the average implementation take for Sculptor CPQ implementation?
Dmitri: I would say that depending on the complexity of the pricing policies of the company, the implementation may take from just one week to, let's say a month. And the second case is more applicable to companies who really have quite a complicated pricing structure. For instance, quite a mature telecom provider with a lot of packages, with a lot of conditional pricing, with a lot of special pricing like block pricing, some usage-based pricing, these kinds of things. And that's just because we not only help to install the solution itself, but if needed, we can also help in transitioning or interpreting the actual pricing policy into the optimal description of the business rules that then are automated in Sculptor. So, we are acting not just as a technical partner, but as a business consultant who is able to support and somehow sometimes even a bit challenge the current description of the business rules that the company is using to make them further optimized, more convenient to comprehend and more easily automated with some solution, including Sculptor CPQ. Of course.
Frank: And what industries do you focus on with your solution?
Dmitri: You know, typically industries that are overall interested in certain product configuration or pricing automation, they are industries related to some sales, either wholesale or retail, some services where people are selling service packages. So, I would say the very typical things would be any, any trade companies who are doing certain sales, either wholesale or retail. Then of course some technological companies who are selling certain equipment that has certain options and certain configurable configurations, I would say. And those companies who are making certain services, not just something simple, but kind of packages who are trying to create certain complex proposal for their target audience, all of them can benefit from Sculptor. So, we are not focusing specifically onto certain industries. I would say that we are more naturally a fit to the companies depending on the scale of their business, and that's probably something from small to medium, medium plus companies. Any of those who are in need of certain configurable products. That's where our solution is a great fit.
Frank: And where are most of your customers located at this time?
Dmitri: We have customers in US, mostly, yeah. And I wouldn't say that it's statistically representative because the product is still fresh on the market. And yeah, because it's built on Salesforce. The typical, the natural area of where Sculptor can be a good fit is just, I think it correlates with the, the most successful markets for Salesforce. So definitely USA is the first choice and then probably such countries as UK, maybe some other European countries, maybe some Asian countries, the growing markets. So yeah, everywhere where Salesforce can be built, we can also sell our app, but currently it's US mostly.
Frank: And how many employees do you have at this time?
Dmitri: We have just about five people who are working with Sculptor all the day full time. And yeah. Still five people, engineers.
Frank: But you mentioned also that you work with Twistellar. That's your 100% day to day job, I guess, right? And I guess they also installed the solution for you, right? So, the team is enhanced the sculptor team by the Twistellar team I guess to a certain.
Dmitri: Yes of course. Yeah. When I'm saying that five people are working with Sculptor, I mean only engineers who are actually developing the product because we are still trying hard to launch new and new releases with new nice features, attractive features that we either invent ourselves or get as a feedback from the customers who would want to see something else. In Sculptor, we are doing that. And definitely all the sales, all the support, all the installation implementation services for that, we can leverage Twistellar as the Salesforce consulting company vendor. So yeah, we have quite a powerful muscle there able to cope with any challenge actually. And because Sculptor CPQ is highly customizable, that means that we can literally build any complex business flows, embedding Sculptor as a component responsible for quoting, but adding on top any automations that can be built with Salesforce and with Salesforce, you can build almost anything. So, plenty of opportunities there for automation.
Frank: And how much interest do you see from the investor community in investing in Sculptor CPQ?
Dmitri: I think that we already had a few conversations, but these conversations were with those investors who are more interested in a bit more mature product. Currently it's still a startup, I would say on a very early stage because we have first customers, first advocates, I would say. But we still have to do a lot to really build the unit economy and to understand the optimal ways of selling the application to the market. And usually, companies who are launching such a product, they depend a lot on the investors they need actual investment money to scale, to operate, to survive. Our case is slightly different. Still, it's a kind of a project inside Twistellar company and so we are funding it successfully with ourselves. There is no, you know, crucial need of getting some investments to survive. But for sure, if we would see an interest from some investors who can not only just give money but also help us with promotion, with sales, connect us somehow to the sales channels that would allow us to sell Sculptor more easily. That would be a great chance for us that we would never miss. Of course.
Frank: Got it. And then right now, I see that the economy obviously has an impact also on pipeline potentially of CPQ vendors. Right. I was just wondering how that is for you. Do you see any impact from the current economic uncertainty or is it business as usual?
Dmitri: I think that such solutions as we offer with Sculptor can actually have certain benefit from uncertainties in economy because Sculptor CPQ is a thing that you can very, very easily get, install and try without the significant upfront investments. And from that standpoint, those companies who would want to save certain costs and who would want to be more effective with their spending, I think in the area, Sculptor CPQ can be really a natural choice, not only to mention the prices that we can make very competitive and really find a compromise with any companies who are interested in CPQ automations. But also, we have an unlimited version which is completely free that provides all the functionality as a normal paid Sculptor application with just two limitations that you cannot have more than two active pricing rules enabled at the same time with the free version, and you cannot send more than ten interactive quotes per month. But you can of course send as many as you want standard PDF templates with quotes, those companies who are just finding their first steps on the CPQ journey, those of them who can implement some straightforward pricing rules like some basic discount for some tier of an account or something like that, they can be happy with free Sculptor and they don't have to pay anything lifetime. So, I think, in that market where we have certain uncertainty from economy, we have a lot to offer to potential customers.
Frank: Got it. And when you look at the top three business requirements that your customers ask you about, what are these top three requirements.
Dmitri: First of all, they want quite often to customize the quote template. And that's what we, of course can do with Sculptor. We can provide the possibility to connect any form of a PDF quote that the customer wants or needs. Second thing would be to configure certain pricing rules, and different companies have really different pricing policies and it's always a challenge, as I said before. That keeps us a bit excited whether and how we will be able to cope with with a particular pricing policy or particular company this time. The second requirement and the third requirement usually are related to connecting Sculptor to the existing components of the system. For instance, we had a Telecom company that already had a nicely integrated sales flow with all the necessary document generation with the help of Google Docs, etcetera. And they were concerned how they can install Sculptor CPQ or any other CPQ solution and what will be the impact on the existing flows and automations. Will they need to rebuild everything from scratch with Sculptor CPQ? The impact was minimal and we literally were able to install and set the system running in around two weeks with very complex pricing rules automated, which was a great victory for them and very optimal investments in the solution itself. So, three challenges and so far, probably also because we haven't acquired that many customers yet, that's what we are trying to do. But so far, we have been quite successful in dealing with those expectations and challenges.
Frank: And when we look at the maintenance of your solution, right? So, for lots of CPQ solutions, you have to have some dedicated resource or at least you need to have someone who has some technical knowledge to maintain the rules. Tell us a little bit more about what a tool administrator needs to keep the tool up to date.
Dmitri: Oh, we try to make it as user-friendly as possible. We created a very nice interactive manual for literally all the functionality with all the screenshots, with all the videos even recorded to explain the behavior of all the parts of the system, including the configuration, of course. All the configuration of Sculptor is exposed on specific page. Again, keeping all the configurations that you need on just one page, which simplifies a lot the maintenance and you always understand what exactly you are doing because you have the tips and the hints for all the controlling elements on this page for configuration, and for the pricing rules, and the product configuration rules we have all of them, again, collected on just one single screen. That is why it's very easy to understand what you have in the system. Moreover, when you are actually creating a quote, and that's also a great advantage, which I haven't seen that often in other CPQ solutions, is that when you are getting a price, like a final output of your quoting engine indicated as the net price on your quote, you always have a small hint indicating which particular automation rules have been applied to get you the price that you see. And that makes everything very well connected. And not only administrators can see what exact rules are configured in the system, salespeople know why exactly they get the price like that, which is a great help. And I think it makes the overall experience from using Sculptor CPQ very appealing and very much interconnected between various departments of the company.
Frank: Got it. And where can interested listeners go to to learn more about your solution? Are there any in-person industry events where they can learn more about your solution?
Yeah, you know, we try to be very easy going with people who want to get acquainted with Sculptor, and we are always open to any demonstration or any personal conversation related to the needs of a particular company. Sculptor can be installed easily from AppExchange on any sandbox that the interested party would have or straight into production, so people can see everything with their own eyes. We haven't been participating in any events so far. We try to promote the materials and different knowledge and use cases of Sculptor via internet, using our own websites, using our partners and partner networks, participating with them in different webinars. So, I would say that the best point to actually get in touch with us would be to send us a message and either myself or my colleagues will always pick it up and we will together work out the best way to actually get an interested listener acquainted with Sculptor. And not only that, but also an advice how exactly this solution would help a particular company, because we try to combine the technical capabilities of Sculptor as an app with our rich expertise as a consulting company that can really provide an advice for a business, how to work in a more effective manner, not considering only Sculptor itself, but the overall setup of the IT components of the system and the overall maturity of the company from the managerial standpoint and the readiness to any IT transformation as a general. Because we strongly believe that the success of an IT project is not about the technology itself, not only about that, but very much about people, their interaction, proper target placement, proper alignment of stakeholders, all the participants of the project. So yeah, we provide tools, but at the same time we provide consulting services and even just an advice which can be helpful in many cases. That’s why we are always happy to welcome any interested visitors to speak with us and see what we can do together to have their businesses prosper. That’s what we are trying to do.