Written by Andrew Seale

Everybody’s social network has a few of them – you know, the interlopers, the strange faces that somewhere along the way snuck into your network. But Nudge.ai, the latest startup from Eloqua co-founders Paul Teshima and Steve Woods, is looking to transcend those convoluted networks, leveraging artificial intelligence to identify genuine connections for sales professionals.

“It’s very different than LinkedIn where if you're connected, more often than not it's not a real relationship, it's not someone you can count on for an intro,” says Teshima. “We track the strength of relationships.”

Woods and Teshima came up with the idea on the plane ride back from a meeting surrounding their exit from Eloqua, a marketing automation software company they built in Toronto before filing for an Initial Public Offering and selling the company to Oracle for $957 million in 2012.

They started talking about what they’d do next, and both had the same insight:  it was always the trusted relationship between a sales person and a customer that would close the big deals.

“We watched how these sales people created these relationships and a lot of the really good ones had this ability to leverage their network as part of the deal process,” says Teshima. Be it tapping into their network to get an “in” or a referral or finding account managers with some connections, however they used it, the best always put the time in to nurture their connections. “But only the top five did that.”

So in 2014 the incorporated Nudge.ai, with the aim of building a platform capable of offering actionable insights to all sales professionals.

“We track the strength of relationships, tying it to email, calendar, and your phone and look at the interactions between multiple people, multiple identities,” explain Teshima. “We can let sales people learn who can help them on a deal or an account (as well as) track and understand who they're losing touch with.”

They launched a premium product in mid-2016 which has grown to more than 10,000 users in the sales and marketing spheres. They also recently launched a business-to-business paid product.

Paul Teshima - Nudge AI

“A whole bunch of things have happened since we started Eloqua that have made (Toronto) an even better place to build our next startup,” he says pointing to talent and a growing number of serial entrepreneurs creating companies here. “It’s hard to appreciate, but in Toronto you're forced to think outside of the ecosystem of people who get it – you can't just sell only to startups, you can’t build a business doing that here you have to sell to (all types) of businesses.”

Ultimately, says Teshima, it forces companies to learn how to simplify, how to deliver value quickly. “And I think that's a really good skill to learn early on in a startup.”

With the AI ecosystem in Toronto on the upswing, Nudge.ai has all it needs to build that scale-up success story they envisioned on that plane ride home after selling Eloqua.

“If you're looking for AI talent and machine learning,” says Teshima. “There is no better place in the world.”