SalesTech Star

SalesTechStar Interview with Kunal Johar, Co-Founder & CTO at OpenWater Inc

To drive your team towards continued growth, it is important to avoid wearing multiple hats feels Kunal Johar, Co-founder and CTO at OpenWater Inc. Catch the excerpts from this interview where Kunal shares his biggest highlights since starting OpenWater Inc., while also talking about some key technology sales best practices.


Can you tell us a little about yourself Kunal? How did the idea of OpenWater Inc come about?

Tim Spell (my business partner) and I both met at George Washington University.  We started OpenWater as a custom software shop, but realized we needed to pivot to a product. It took us 5 years (from 2007-2012) to find our niche.  We came up with the product idea by looking at the dozens of projects we built for customers as custom work, and finally realized one of them did not have much competition.

We went all in on the niche of Awards Management Software in 2012, and over time the platform was adopted by many other use cases around application and review.

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We’d love to hear about your biggest highlights and challenges being a tech entrepreneur.

A few key highlights:

  • We signed a household name (Kellogg’s)
  • Signed a Fortune 100 (Oracle)
  • We are expanding to the UK (Time Magazine UK)
  • We are a top level sponsor for ASAE
  • We’ve continued our journey mostly with the same original team members!
  • We have only remote staff as W2 with benefits and healthcare

Given the many recent (and still evolving) innovations across SaaS products or salestech/martech – what are your thoughts when it comes identifying a tech stack (for marketing/sales) among all this choice? Isn’t it always easier to rely on a platform everybody already uses, one that has been in the market for long, if so – how would you advise newer tech (product) entrepreneurs to position themselves against this?

The platforms that everyone uses are more expensive and harder to pivot. Platforms have to be left for legacy customers, and legacy customers are the lifeblood of a SaaS company’s revenue.  I’d say that there are always growth opportunities because there are always new organization’s forming.

Yes for sure, if you are established, you want to join up with an established player (e.g. Salesforce).  Established places think about risk and minimizing risk vs overall cost. As a newcomer you usually start in one area that was overlooked by a big player.  In most cases the big players (Salesforce, HubSpot) have app stores and welcome these off-shoots.

One can never really predict what the future holds and the current global pandemic is set to change how we live and work – how do you think this recent change in the world is going to impact the overall offering/feature set that tech entrepreneurs/ new product companies will plan to offer?

It is clear that a virtual option is needed for all human interaction.  This could mean adding video chat for your customer support; or otherwise adding video to your software system in ways you couldn’t have imagined.

The idea that we are now starved for human interaction means that there is opportunity to create it in places that didn’t need it before.

Besides that, the wave of layoffs will create another opportunity for entrepreneurs.  An entrepreneurs first customers are usually other entrepreneurs.  It really is an awful and scary time.  It is bad news for the people losing what they worked hard on; but it is an opportunity for those new to entrepreneurship to help rebuild.

Listen Now: Missed our latest episode of the SalesStar Podcast? Catch it here!

How have you seen Marketing and Sales evolve in the B2B/Tech marketplace over the years? What are some of the most crucial skills that today’s marketer or salesperson needs more of, given their exposure to martech/salestech and the need to use these tools wisely?

Automation is taking over and making the job of personalized mass outreach a standard tool.  If you are not using a tool like MixMax or Hubspot Sales you are already at a disadvantage.

What according to you are the top 5 common mistakes you would tell technology sales teams to ensure they avoid given today’s challenging sales / tech sales sphere?

  • Spray and pray doesn’t work anymore. Take the time to do some research
  • Define territories and enforce them via your CRM
  • Multiple touch points are critical. Don’t just email or call or linked in message  Do all of the above all at the same time.  Then breathe.
  • You must find multiple contacts per organization you wish to do outreach into. One contact or a generic info email won’t suffice.
  • You must log your activities to stay accountable to outreach. Use automation to log your activities and calls.

As CTO and Co-founder, what are some of the top 5 best practices you follow to drive your team towards continued growth/success?

  • Don’t wear multiple hats. One person = one major job role.
  • One person, One Manager. On the same note
  • Separate development from consulting. You’ll never get anything done if you let a few customers drive your roadmap.
  • Team transparency. All departments should have goals that are public to the whole company and monthly reporting on how each department is doing.
  • Be human first. Goes without saying in this crazy time.  Empathy goes a long way towards motivation.

Read More: 3 Reasons Why Now Isn’t The Time To Stop Talking To Customers

We’d love to know a little about your future plans!

We are heading towards helping our nonprofit associations struggling with their annual conferences cancelled.  We are doing R&D around the clock around bringing video conferencing into large events at scale using tools they already pay for like Zoom and Go-to webinar.

You can check out for our guide on how to move a physical conference to virtual using mostly free or cheap tools.

OpenWater, a software company based in Arlington, VA (DC Metro), provides an application and review software platform that automates and helps to grow tedious workflows. Global companies such as Fast Company, Oracle, The James Beard Foundation and Peabody are utilizing OpenWater’s cloud-based software to simplify their application and review process.

Kunal Johar is the Co-Founder & CTO at OpenWater Inc