Talisman’s Journey: The Founding Story and Aspirational Vision

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Anthony Garza
June 29, 2023
Talisman’s Journey: The Founding Story and Aspirational Vision

About Chiko Chingaya

Born in post-colonial Zimbabwe, Chiko moved to the US when he was 7, growing up in and around Dallas. Despite the initial excitement, settling into America was not easy for him.

“When I got to the US, it was tough because… it was before “being from Africa” was cool. It seems like now there’s a lot of pride in having an African lineage, I see that in my younger brothers… but when I first got here, it was kind of like not cool to be from Africa. You’re kind of looked down upon. … Finding new friends and kind of figuring out where you fit was also difficult coming into a new country.”

Chiko also shares what it was like growing up in the post-colonial era:

‘My worldview being influenced post-colonial where you have people that were previously repressed, all of a sudden have the opportunity, it’s almost like a battery in my back was put in early by my parents politically and from a business perspective… Opportunities are not granted; they’re privileges”

While his parents compelled Chiko to pursue stable and prestigious jobs in the post-colonial era like law, medicine, and engineering, he was always fond of the more creative activities. He used to make home movies and even thought of becoming a director.

When he got to college, the path to success wasn’t always clear. Chiko was undecided between being in pre-law and becoming a journalist but inevitably settled on Political Science.

After college, Chiko stumbled into tech when he started his career as a Visual Effects Supervisor at Digital Tutors, an online training content company for movie and game studios. He effortlessly got the job because of all the studying he has done, thinking he’d be a director. Working with Digital Tutors sparked his interest in Tech, and he decided he’d learn more about the domain.

“I’ve always been obsessed with Kobe and his work ethic, and for me, I always wanted to be Kobe at something… For me, being in tech, that was gonna be my thing”

Digital Tutors got acquired by Pluralsight soon after. It was a huge acquisition, and Chiko ended up moving to Salt Lake City and switched to sales. He learned from a mentor that if you want to be an entrepreneur,  being good at sales is a must. Chiko led a sales team and then shifted to product management at a different company. He learned how to build products for early-stage companies, and that’s where Chiko built more confidence and really thrived.

“Going behind the curtain is really what exposed me and kind of made everything feel possible.”

Chiko Chingaya, Co-founder CEO, Talisman

The Birth of Talisman

Chiko came across the password manager Last Pass when he was working at PluralSight and he found the software brilliant as he was always forgetting his passwords. He realized how he wanted to build something just like that, products that are exactly what people are looking for.

“I always wanted to start a B2B saas company because I thought my skill set was built for it…  having the product and sales background made me an interesting person to start a company because usually, you have people lean one way or the other…”

Fast forward, Chiko was leading a team of 13 people at Shmoop. Every time they hired someone, they would have to call the office manager and request the new hires to be added to the corresponding software applications.

The IT person would set the new hire up on Last Pass, and Chiko noticed how people seem to be always confused about how to use it, and the process was just rather messy and inefficient.

Shortly after, the pandemic happened. One night as Chiko was watching Shark Tank with wine in hand, he had the Eureka moment. He called his friend Mike, who is now his co-founder, and started playing with the idea. Mike worked at McKesson and in that phone call, Chiko asked Mike, “Access Management stinks… How do you do it at McKesson? Like if somebody starts, what do you guys do? ”. Mike’s response was “Oh, I don’t know. I think they just like send emails and like communicate with it and go back and forth.” At that moment, Chiko realized how frustrating the problem was and that there must be a better solution.

They went on and did more research and found out that there already are SaaS management tools out there chasing the same market. Chiko thought it was actually a good sign. The solutions available then, however, were mainly API farms, integrating different tools and bringing information into a pretty spreadsheet for people to look at. There was no way to control it and use it for more advanced SaaS management.

“They weren’t getting the answers to the core questions that they had like what can I do or cut to save money?”

That’s when Chiko saw the big opportunity.

“To us, the job to be done wasn’t to give you a spreadsheet and make it pretty and present to you; the job to be done was to give you answers to questions you haven’t even thought of yet by analyzing what’s going on with your software”

Being a fan of Shark Tank, Chiko learned to first raise the two big questions:

  1. Can it be done?
  2. Can it make money?

Chiko and Mike aren’t developers but had a friend who was a developer whom they asked to make a research paper to explore the whole idea’s feasibility from a technical perspective. It turns out it was all technically feasible.

The next thing they did was check how much other similar companies charge for the same and how to approach the market. They first hired a product researcher, a domain Chiko is well-versed in, having a strong background in product management.

Soon, Chiko decided to quit his job and focus on Talisman full-time. During the first 4 months of exploring the business idea, Chiko was juggling Talisman and his full-time work at a product consultancy, and he realized how that has to change.

“I remember I was driving my car and I had this thought that in 20 years if I wake up, will this job that has afforded me this car have been worth it?... The car represents the nice things you can get as a result of like whatever job that you’re working, but really the question was like, what is worth it to me?”

“It became clear that there was no path if I really wanted to make this happen, but going full-time and I need to stop protecting what I have so far because my goals in life were much larger than that… I need to be able to let certain things go…in order to go get the thing that maybe is waiting for me on the other side”

The Present and Future of Talisman

How Talisman Works

“The best way is to use a super tangible example. Imagine you are a 100-person fintech company. There’s definitely gonna be chaos in your software stack… We talked to a company that had a hundred people…they had over 85 apps that they discovered were being used in the organization and paid for in some capacity.”

That company used to outsource an IT team to handle ‘what they call managed services. The service takes care of the software stack and manually does the provisioning and de-provisioning across all software tools. The company just has to lodge a ticket requesting for a new hire to be set up with a certain set of tools, and the outsourced IT team will execute that. However, it’s not without limitations. It may fall through the crack, get delayed, etc.

With Talisman, the process becomes more efficient and foolproof. Talisman is integrated with all of a company’s software tools, and provisioning and de-provisioning users are made way more efficient.

The user can create a team, e.g. investment team and attach, for example, 10 apps to that specific team. Whenever there’s a new hire under that team, all the admin has to do is log in to Talisman and drag and drop the users onto the corresponding team to enable automated provisioning. The user will now have instant access to all the tools associated with that department.

“And access is sent to the user’s new email, which we create automatically because when you add somebody to your company, we detect it in your HR system, then we automatically create a Gmail for them. And then as soon as you pick what team you want them added to, all those tools get automatically provisioned.”

Every new user will have an individual profile page where you can see the team they’re on, the tools they have access to, the level of access they have, how much it costs per tool, and even which credit card is used to process and pay for these different tools.

Talisman’s Target Customers

“Large SaaS footprints, so specifically agencies are a big one. And then startups of course, because they’re always just picking stuff up as they go along. So agencies, especially advertising development shops and marketing agencies, they have really large SaaS footprints and a bunch of different stakeholders.”

Talisman aims to help companies with large SaaS footprints take charge of their SaaS spending and have the visibility and means to efficiently optimize their SaaS management.

“We onboarded a customer and they had 20 full-time employees, and then they have like an additional 20 or 30 contractors. We saved them $14,000 in 30 minutes because basically, we were able to identify all of these things they’d forgotten about”

“Gartner says about 30% of the SaasS spend of your company is wasted, unused, and underutilized licenses. So if you think about that, if you could put that back in your pocket for them, that was an additional contractor overseas. That was basically all the laptops they wanted to buy for all new employees coming in saved just as a result of catching issues with software.”

Dan Kihanya also asked Chiko his thoughts about how Talisman may be helping customers save money but causing some SaaS companies to lose some. Chiko’s response to the zero-sum prospect goes:

“The way that I look at it is, look, we’re gonna help customers manage and build in SaaS because they know they’re only spending what they need to be spending. But what that also allows us to do is give more opportunities to other companies in the SaaS ecosystem.”

“I really think of what we wanna do in the future as being the Michelin of SaaS software… we’re gonna get better products as consumers, as businesses… Not only are we gonna provide context through our platform, but I also want to start doing real reviews… So for a 50-person company, what CRM should I be using?”

Chiko aspires to advocate Talisman not just as a SaaS management tool but as a means to help customers build trust in SaaS. As the Michelin of SaaS, Talisman will make more SaaS reviews across all verticals and become a trustworthy resource,  giving customers unbiased and top-notch suggestions and SaaS advice that could further optimize their SaaS spending and processes. Chiko also mentioned how the discovery of SaaS tools can transform for the better. Today, the big players tend to get more attention when there are boutique software solutions that deserve some attention too.

”I think boutique software is something no one ever talks about. Like what if that is the future?... I think that there’s a world in which there’s a bunch of different boutique software.”

The Future of Talisman

For Chiko, the definition of Talisman’s future success is effectively enabling the three pillars of SaaS management: evaluate, manage, and optimize.

“So we’re helping you evaluate software tools, and find the right things that you should be using. Once you’ve found these things, we’re helping you manage them. Make sure the right people have access to the right things… Leadership is getting the right type of reports and understanding and insights, and we’re optimizing it. So we’re making sure you’re only spending what you should be.”

Discussing the outlook of Talisman, Chiko expects massive revenue with a trend towards becoming a publicly traded company. He also expressed how he intends to build an aspirational company that truly makes a difference.

“And one thing that’s super important to me and always been important to me is I wanna build an aspirational black-led tech company… I think there are a lot of brilliant black-led tech companies that are bubbling up, but I wanna be part of those that are aspirational in nature, where everybody’s like, I wanna go work there because of the things that they make and what they stand for.”

Chiko and Mike built Talisman from the ground up, initially pulling money from their own savings to get started. They then raised more funds from family, friends, and personal connections until they earned more institutional checks and angel investors. Talisman is now raising a $1M Pre-Seed funding round and has already established its first few paying customers and initial Alpha design partners.

When asked what will be his advice for his younger self and other tech founders out there, Chiko responded:

“Learn to code a little bit if you’re gonna be a tech founder. That’s just my opinion… So I learned SQL and Python… and it’s been immensely helpful as we build product because I understand the schema… Research, talk to people about whatever it is that you’re trying to build… And then last but not least, it’s not gonna be a good day every day. The journey is mostly Ls and then a few wins here and there…. So if you can get used to kind of living with ambiguity, just know that that’s normal and like that’s just the process. ”

There’s more in the pipeline for Talisman. It’s going to be fully packed with elegant features that will transform how SaaS management operates in the industry. With SaaS tools becoming a core element of the digital success of modern-day companies, Talisman has a special role to play, and with the leadership and team eager and ready to redefine SaaS management, the future is bright and promising for Talisman.

Listen to the entirety of Chiko's Interview with Dan at