Navigating the Future of E-commerce: Interview with Olena Petrosyuk, COO at Klevu.

Navigating the Future of E-commerce

From the difficulties of being a female leader, the challenges, milestones, and lessons learned along the way, Olena Petrosyuk, COO at Klevu will be sharing with us some insights on how  her role has evolved, with a look into the future of ecommerce and her future goals and vision for Klevu. We will also look into how ecommerce teams are using Klevu technology to improve conversion and automate workflows, in this interview with TechBullion.

Please tell us more about yourself, and your journey from VP of Operations to COO at Klevu.

Hi, my name is Olena. I’m the Chief Operating Officer at Klevu, the search and discovery experience platform for e-commerce. My background originally was in investment banking and consulting, having worked at JP Morgan and Oliver Wyman. I loved finance and strategy but struggled with the fact that  I couldn’t really see the impact of my work. So at some point in time, around ten years ago, I decided to apply my expertise to high-growth companies and founded Waveup, helping companies execute on their growth strategies, raise funding and break into new markets and product categories. Five years in, I was introduced to Klevu at the time they were raising their early fundraising round. We worked together on putting a 100 and 1000 day value creation plan for the business, and at the end of the project the founders offered me to help execute the growth plan we had put together. I’ve seen many teams in my consulting career but Klevu’s founding team was truly remarkable. Just incredibly humble people with this enormous passion about the technology they were developing, and mission behind it. So I loved the people and thought it would be a really interesting challenge to see the tech world from a different side of the table, and actually help for once to execute the strategy I’ve worked on. I started as a growth hacker, and then in the next year was promoted to VP of Operations and, eventually, the Chief Operating Officer.

What is Klevu, and what inspired this AI search and product discovery platform?

Klevu is a search and discovery experience platform for e-commerce that was founded with a simple but powerful mission: to democratize discovery in online retail. Looking at the average conversion rates of various e-commerce websites, you can see that they hover around 2 to 3% on average —significantly lower compared to Amazon, which boasts a conversion rate well above 13% and even double digits with Prime. Klevu’s mission from the very get-go was to ensure that search experience and that level of conversions are available for even the smallest retailers, all while providing the best experience for the final customer and ensuring they can find relevant products faster and more efficiently than ever before. 

Could you give us a walkthrough of the unique Solutions you provide at Klevu, the technology behind the platform, and how it can be integrated into other platforms?

Absolutely. We actually have a pretty wide range of solutions I can probably talk about the whole day; but one thing unites them: they were all built to ease the pains for the retailers and help them maximise traffic coming to their website. We started our journey with AI-powered search to address a massive gap in the market – which centers around customers being unable to find products they want. How often have you tried to find a product and instead of discovering the exact thing you were looking for, stumbled upon irrelevant or out of stock products, or ‘no results’ page? It happens more often than you can imagine. For instance, one in 10 search queries on Google are misspelled, and the behavior on e-commerce sites is similar. In fact, 55% of e-commerce websites in the U.S. cannot process a simple typo of one letter. Let’s say you’re looking for a “sofa” but accidentally type “sona”; you’re likely to get zero results. 75% of e-commerce websites struggle to process complex search terms, often returning zero or irrelevant results. Our aim is to bridge this discovery gap. 

Our first and core flagship product is AI search powered by NLP and ML technology. And this is what truly sets us apart from a lot of other e-com solutions. Most of the search players in the market today are able to retrieve information from the product catalogue really fast – but it just doesn’t work if the customer misspells a term or uses a synonym. We focus instead of understanding the intent of the customer and delivering exactly what the customer is looking for. How? With two key steps. First, data enrichment and dimensional transformation, where Klevu automatically enriches, normalizes, and expands product catalogue data in real-time without requiring manual work from the retailer. The second is semantic query processing. Klevu processes and understands the intent behind a search query automatically. We are capable of tasks like breaking complex words into their simplest forms for clear processing. 

This alone already allows us to increase conversions by 40-50% for an average retailer, but on top of it we also offer other product discovery solutions such as navigation and recommendations, allowing to optimize consumer journey across the whole site and deliver threefold conversion increase for our customers. Across a whole suite, we have 120+ known use cases and growing. 

We can personalize the experience for new and anonymous visitors through clickstream, collaborative filtering, and behavioral affinity. Our solution is fast to integrate, fully MACH-compliant, very scalable and secure – offering not just powerful performance but also full visibility of one’s customers path from search to purchase. 

It seems generative AI changes everything for AI companies. Could you give us an overview of this industry and how Klevu is harnessing this opportunity?

Generative AI is undoubtedly transforming the landscape and there has been a lot of talk around efficiencies it creates and how it will transform the e-commerce market. A lot of these discussions only started a few month back but really, as an AI-first company, we’ve been talking about it for years now. We even have our own AI Lab, a team dedicated solely to building the next generation innovations at the intersection of ML and NLP, for online retail and finding exciting new exciting use cases for our AI technology. 

Back in March, we hosted our first-ever discovery event, with many discussions centered around the future of Chat GPT and conversational commerce in general, and one of the interesting conclusions that came out of the conversations was that despite the massive potential efficiencies created, ChatGPT can provide knowledge but not understanding. AI language models are trained to generate human-like text by processing vast amounts of language data. They can offer extensive information on virtually any topic. Still, Chat GPT lacks common sense and context awareness, which is crucial to comprehend what Klevu does. Chat GPT can’t genuinely offer personalized advice or understand complex subjects, limiting its implications on our work. This is not to say that it can’t or shouldn’t be used to enhance the consumer experience. There is definitely immense potential in specialized applications developed using OpenAI APIs, which we  also have been leveraging on our end. 

One example is the tool we’ve launched a few months back, named MOI. MOI is essentially Chat GPT for product discovery. Utilizing OpenAI APIs, we’ve developed an experimental search conversation AI chat tool that’s smarter than your average chatbox. It combines Klevu AI and OpenAI and is designed from the ground up to enhance the on-site search experience. With MOI, website visitors can engage in intelligent chat. They can ask specific questions, like “Do you have any white chairs under $100?” MOI can assist and refine searches based on color, price range, and multiple other parameters. It can even advise on product compatibility. This is one of the many intriguing use cases that we’re exploring.

Could you give us more insights into the current fundraising landscape for SaaS products, how big this market is, what challenges the industry is facing, and what is the future of this industry?

We are undoubtedly in an interesting time from a fundraising standpoint. In the recent years, we’ve seen the landscape changing dramatically. Back in 2021, fundraising was all about growth and top-line revenue. I think very few investors in conversations cared about things like your burn rate or capital efficiency. Today, everything revolves around your payback time, retention, “rule of 40.” the latter metric has become instrumental in differentiating exceptionally well-performing companies from their less successful counterparts. We see  investors being much more careful about businesses they invest in, dedicating more attention to product stickiness and business model sustainability.

So it’s definitely an interesting time from a fundraising standpoint but it hasn’t really affected us massively. At Klevu, we’ve always had a very diligent approach to growth, it has never been growth at all costs. It’s always been: ‘does it make sense? Is it a smart thing to do?’ This approach has prepared us well for the current environment, allowing us to grow responsibly and sustainably. We are a few months away from breaking even, and we continue to grow in all of our geographies. So really, for us the question never has been how to fundraise, but rather whether we want to fundraise and what would be the right valuation point. And at this stage of our journey, given we have more than enough runway, the attention has been fully on building the best-in-class product and customer experience. We see a lot of e-com companies struggling with increased churn, and with concerns around potential recession the focus has been on ensuring the product is really sticky, the competitive moat is sustainaible and our customers happy. 

Would you like to share with us your key responsibilities and achievements as a COO, how your role has evolved, and the impact you have made on the company’s growth?

As I previously mentioned, I initially joined Klevu as a growth hacker. After about half a year of working closely with the management team, I transitioned to VP of Operations, overseeing all commercial operations, and eventually became the Chief Operating Officer. As with any startup, wearing many hats is part of the job, so my role as COO might not fit the traditional description. I manage our US team, work with our customer success team, help on board reporting and execution of large cross-functional initiatives, such as pricing reviews. 

In essence, my role is incredibly versatile and it changes as the company grows. At it’s core, it’s always the same thing: review our performance, identify new initiatives and strategies to grow and help teams to execute. Strategizing and implementing changes are relatively simple at less than 1 million ARR, but the game changes once you cross 10 million and beyond. The job becomes more strategic, requiring long-term thinking about where we will be not only in the next six months but in one to two years and how the roadmap aligns with that vision. My first years at Klevu were focused a lot on how to drive top-line growth. Today, we’re pondering how we can delight customers and build our brand beyond day-to-day interactions and marketing. A lot more work evolves around long-term product vision, brand building and building sustainable category leadership.

As a female leader, would you like to share some of the difficulties, challenges, and lessons learned along the way and provide insights into the qualities and attributes that are valuable to succeed?

While I would love to share insights on the specific challenges of being a female leader, I’ve been fortunate enough to work in environments where my gender hasn’t been a distinguishing factor. The difficulties, challenges, and lessons I’ve faced were more related to operating in a dynamic environment, navigating through COVID, and addressing the inherent growing pains of a rapidly evolving company.

While I may not have advice on succeeding specifically as a female leader, I can offer my thoughts on what I believe contributes to success in general. From my experience at Klevu and prior, persistence and passion have been fundamental. When I joined Klevu, I had limited knowledge about e-commerce, the industry, or the technology, which initially made me apprehensive about joining the company. I did learn however that as long as you are willing to learn and consistently strive to deliver your best, you can succeed in pretty much any assignment. A key strategy for me has been active listening — to my team and to our customers.  In an industry that is constantly changing, continuous learning is essential. Even being out of the loop for a few months can leave you blindsided, given the pace of new developments. You need to continuously learn, always search for the best solutions, and listen intently. These are probably the key elements that have contributed to my success.

Could you tell us more about the team and the brains behind the Klevu ecosystem, what makes you the best?

One of the reasons I joined Klevu was the exceptional team. Our founders, who are both extraordinarily intelligent and humble, have built a team of individuals incredibly passionate about their work. Even today, they immerse themselves daily in customer support, answering queries and understanding customer pain points, and then elevating these insights to strategic decision-making levels. 

To this day, I firmly believe that our people are what makes our product the best. Our team’s exceptional passion for the e-commerce space, commitment to providing the best value, and relentless pursuit of new solutions for customers inform every decision at Klevu. Our focus is always on the customer first, not necessarily profit or growth, though this may seem counterintuitive to some. But this customer-first approach explains why we continue to offer industry-leading customer support and why many customers switch to Klevu.  Our unwavering commitment to optimization ensures that we consistently deliver high returns on investment for our customers, regardless of their size. We also pride ourselves on having some of the most talented AI professionals on our team. Their expertise allows us to continuously innovate and pioneer unconventional solutions that deliver the most value and keep us at the forefront of the industry. 

What are you currently working on at Klevu, and what is next on your roadmap, any available opportunities for investors and partnerships? Do you have more information to share with our readers today?

We are always working on new and exciting initiatives. Our roadmap is quite public, allowing both partners and customers to see and contribute to what’s coming next, which is an exciting way to influence the development of new features. As we continue to refine our core product, our focus is on elevating both the customer and retailer experience. Our mission has always been to ensure that our product is user-friendly and that we can deliver the fastest return on investment (ROI). We are continually working to perfect these areas, not only for the customers using our solution but also for the developers and partners involved.

Last year, we joined the MACH Alliance, which has opened up a myriad of new partnerships and opportunities for us. We continue to integrate and partner up with more and more solutions. And, of course, we are looking ahead, asking ourselves: what’s next in e-commerce? What will be the next significant innovation in the space? The launch of our conversational agent and chat feature is just the first step. We are exploring a host of new and exciting avenues as part of our AI labs and look forward to sharing those developments when the time comes.

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