Elias Torres’ Tech Removes Friction From Online Shopping

Helping companies grow revenue through conversational marketing

Having to email a company about a product you're interested in purchasing should be a thing of the past, that's why Elias Torres created a platform that provides answers in real-time. 

Torres is the founder and CTO of Drift, developer of a conversational marketing and sales platform that helps businesses connect with customers in real-time who are ready to make purchases. 

A protrait of Elias Torres.
Elias Torres.

Drift / Elias Torres

Launched in 2015, Drift's software-as-a-service (SaaS)-based platform allows companies to have conversations in real-time with customers. The platform can integrate with other sales and marketing platforms and uses artificial intelligence to offer personalized experiences. The company reports that more than 50,000 businesses are using its platform. 

"Our mission is to change how businesses buy from businesses. It's a very archaic process of phone calls, meetings, and demos. It can be slow and confusing to buyers," Torres told Lifewire in a phone interview. "Our job is to remove the friction for buyers through productivity software for sales."

Quick Facts

  • Name: Elias Torres
  • Age: 45
  • From: Nicaragua 
  • Random delight: He's a kitesurfer!
  • Key quote or motto: "No regrets. Be yourself."

From IBM to Entrepreneurship

Torres emigrated to Tampa, Florida, from Nicaragua when he was 17. He said he struggled to navigate the college application process until he found a friend who was an accounting major. This wasn't an industry he was interested in working in, but he went with it because that was the only advice he had at the time. 

"Whenever you get advice or a mentor at that age, you just take it," Torres said. "I stumbled my way into computers little by little after that."

After earning some scholarships, Torres switched from studying accounting to information systems during his later years of college. He landed an accounting internship at Bank of America before switching to a software engineering role at IBM. 

"I'm very open-minded, and I follow opportunities that present themselves to me," he said. "I ended up working at IBM for ten years. Some great engineers would leave IBM to go into the startup world. I always kept seeing that and started thinking I have to go do that; I will not be happy with my life otherwise."

Torres considered himself a rebel and wanted to pave his own path. He didn't see himself working for IBM for 30 years, so he left the company in 2008 and served as vice president of engineering at Lookery for a year, then at HubSpot until 2014.

Elias Torres speaking at an event.
Elias Torres.

Drift / Elias Torres

During his tenure at IBM, he met his partner and Drift co-founder, David Cancel, and the pair decided to take that leap into full-time entrepreneurship together. Torres said Drift is the fourth startup he has launched alongside Cancel, so the pair have been working together for more than 13 years. 

"Most people don't stick together even within one venture," he said. "It's been fun growing with somebody who teaches me and challenges me."

Diversity and Pressure

Torres and Cancel have grown Drift's team to more than 600 global employees, including product managers, designers, engineers, sales, and more. Torres prioritizes hiring minority professionals because it's crucial to give underrepresented people opportunities they struggle to find elsewhere.

"I want to shape the face of corporate America by the diversity of our company. By how we look, who we are, and where we came from," Torres said. "There is a different burden I carry because I want to help Latinos and Blacks and other underrepresented people be successful. It's hard to break through and create a place that's representative of our country. There is a lot of pressure."

Balancing the desire to put diversity on the forefront and wanting his business to succeed has been the biggest challenge for Torres. He's faced pressure, racism, criticism, and prejudice throughout his career, but he's leaned on his network and created connections with other minority entrepreneurs to overcome these hardships.

"I want to shape the face of corporate America by the diversity of our company. By how we look, who we are, and where we came from."

"People think I exaggerate, but it's all in the little things as you interact in the world," Torres said. "I'm very grateful and thankful because I've been able to grow so much as an entrepreneur, I've had success, and I have a family. My confidence and my strength as a Latino have grown over the years, and it helps me overcome the non-preferential treatment that I get." 

Drift has raised over $140 million in venture capital from a portfolio of investment firms, including Charles River Ventures, General Catalyst, and Sequoia Capital. Recently, the company landed a strategic growth investment from Vista Equity Partners. Torres shared in a press release that Drift is one of the only Latino-founded companies to ever achieve over a $1 billion valuation. Over the next year, Torres will be focused on continuing to grow Drift toward an IPO. 

"We've built something that could go public in a few years," he said. "This is the closest I'll ever be right now, and that's what excites me every day."

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