Posted on: October 22, 2021 Posted by: Nick Stulga Comments: 0

By Nick Stulga, JRN 111 Student

Matt Coughlin is a man of many words, taking calls all day long. So it’s no surprise that he has a multitude of mottos.

“Obstacles are opportunities. They’re just not yet achieved,” said Coughlin, the founder and CEO of XSELL Technologies, a Chicago-based artificial intelligence company.

“I think if I were to look back on most of the things that I’ve gotten great satisfaction from in my career, it’s about things that previously represented really big obstacles for me or for the company that we were able to overcome through innovation.”

Coughlin saw an obstacle businesses were facing in fully engaging customers, and he set out to overcome it through the use of artificial intelligence. He launched XSELL Technologies after working for major companies including Disney, Apple, Carnival, AT&T, GE and Walgreens.

“When you see something and you go, ‘Wow, that is tough!’ [you think] there’s one way to go about it, which is like Groundhog Day,” he said. “You just keep doing tough work over and over and over. Or [you could] go, ‘Hey, is there a better way that I can think of on how this would be done?'”

Lots of people tend to do the same thing over and over, he said. Coughlin thinks it’s better to reinvent the wheel: “Instead of a hundred people trying to move this rock at the base of the pyramid, can I come up with something better? It started out with a plow and a horse, then a combustion engine, then can I come up with something that’s even better?”

Coughlin mentions Paul Orfalea as one of his favorite success stories. Orfalea was the man behind Kinko’s, a huge copy chain that was eventually bought out by FedEx for a staggering $2.4 billion. Orfalea had dyslexia and ADHD. He flunked out and was expelled from several schools because of his conditions. Coughlin mentions his story as an example of finding opportunities in adverse conditions.

“He was one of the most successful business people ever, and he had all that stuff, but he just looked for opportunity,” Coughlin said. “Couldn’t read, couldn’t do all this stuff, but basically could build a billion-dollar business.”

I think if I were to look back on most of the things that I’ve gotten great satisfaction from in my career, it’s about things that previously represented really big obstacles for me or for the company that we were able to overcome through innovation.”

Matt Coughlin, CEO of XSELL

Coughlin’s business is definitely seeing success, even more during the pandemic than before. Just last year, the company received a growth investment from Sageview Capital to speed up rapid expansion.

The business relies on customer service call annotation to create a feedback system that helps representatives from different businesses become more effective at selling products. “Outcome engineers” work with machine technology to figure out how the best salespeople sell products most efficiently.

Coughlin gives an example of what the best salesperson will say to sell something, in this case a phone, more specifically one that has a better camera: “Well, this one is 80 megapixels and this one is 20 megapixels, which is the difference between seeing your little brother’s face on the baseball field or being able to see only his silhouette out in the field.”

The company’s “outcome engineers” then use this information from the salesperson in a process referred to as behavioral economics to create software that is better at relating to the customer’s wants and needs. Coughlin points out that sometimes salespeople go through all the work of connecting with the customer just to fumble the sale in the end.

Coughlin says his biggest obstacle is finding good talent to run his business: “I think talent wins. If you get really good, great players and you get them really engaged, that is like a recipe for success.”

Basically, it’s an irrational commitment to not quit at something.”

Matt Coughlin, CEO of XSELL

Mary Ellen Wood, executive administrator to the CEO, was a former call annotator who worked her way up through the ranks. She’s been with the company for seven years and says she loves working for Coughlin, who she describes as persevering, loyal, and fearless.

Persevering might be an understatement. Coughlin’s daily schedule is usually swamped, and during a recent interview his calendar app displayed reminder after reminder, not even allowing time off for lunch. When we sat down outside Bonci Pizza, Coughlin couldn’t resist taking a few phone calls. Between bites, his mouth seemed more hungry for words than pizza.

Part of what makes Coughlin so relentless and driven is his “open for business” mindset, which was passed on from his father.

“When you’re open for business, it’s literally saying, ‘I’m open to learn and I want to hear what you have to say,'” Coughlin said.

Coughlin seems to think that anyone can develop the mindset of perseverance, of grit.

“Basically, it’s an irrational commitment to not quit at something,” he said. “Work your way through really difficult circumstances, figure it out, but then see these obstacles as opportunities.”