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Scaling Enterprise Software Companies is Harder than Ever

Girls can do anything!

There is a common misconception within the startup community that building companies is easier than ever. Part of the argument is the amazingly cheap costs of infrastructure available with cloud infrastructures such as AWS or Google Cloud, the relatively easy access to early stage capital as well as the free distribution and commercialization channels available to any company. More importantly, this argument has been fueled by some large exits recently experienced by small companies such as Instagram or Whatsapp in the consumer space.

When we think about this argument, we can is about 75% true. If we divide the process of building a company between early stage (building) and late stage (scaling) and then we segment that universe between consumer and enterprise solutions. We can arrive to the following conclusions:

  • Starting a consumer software company is easier than ever before
  • Starting an enterprise software company is easier than ever before
  • Scaling a consumer company is easier than ever before
  • Scaling an enterprise software company is HARDER than ever before

scaling

To illustrate this thesis let’s take a look at the latest round of IPOs in the enterprise software space. Recent analysis showed some outstanding metrics about the new wave of enterprise software companies:

  • Average time from starting to IPO:5 years
  • Average amount of capital raised: $110M
  • Average number of employees: >560
  • Average number of sales and marketing employees: >180
  • Average revenue: $70M

As you can see, those metrics describe the difficult and challenging process of scaling an enterprise software company which highly contrast with the cheaper and easier way to get it off the ground. Without getting into a detailed analysis of the factors that contribute to this phenomenon, we can list a few usual suspects:

Markets are Bigger

The size of the enterprise software markets have drastically expanded over the last few years. As a consequence, companies need to capture a bigger size of the market to be relevant on any particular space which results in a harder endeavor compared to the equivalent task a few years ago.

Markets are Global

Today, enterprise software is a global business. The commoditization and globalization of distribution channels as well as the flexible global trading laws, have allowed customers in emerging economies to have access to the same enterprise software solutions than their peers in first world economies. As a consequence, every scalable enterprise software companies is faced with the challenge of acquiring customers in emerging markets which results in large sales and marketing operations.

Requirements are More Complex

With the evolution of enterprise software comes the complexity on the requirements of new solutions. As businesses have evolved they have faced more complex business dynamics that are rarely addressed by default in enterprise software packages. In order to acquire those types of customers, enterprise software companies need to spend more and more time and resources providing the right levels of customizations of their solutions.

Markets are More Competitive

Because starting an enterprise software company is relatively easy, you find a lot of early stage (post-seed, pre-Series A) companies in any segment of the market. As a result, competition is constantly intense which requires companies to deploy the right level of resources to stay competitive. Additionally, newcomers in the space always lower the price and try to simplify the customer acquisition model which poses new challenges for companies in growth mode.

I hope some of the factors below make sense. The enterprise software space is more exciting than ever but, as mentioned before, I often think there is a strong misconception about efforts that take to fully scale a modern enterprise software business. Reading this, you have to ask yourself: are you sure you don’t want to build a messaging application? ;)

 
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Posted by on September 2, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Enterprise Software Lessons: Selling Top-Down vs. Bottom-Up

ABCEnterprise software sales are always a difficult task for a startup and something that is fundamentally different from the consumer market. Traditionally, enterprise software sales developed a reputation for being a long and bureaucratic process. However, recent technology movements such as the consumerization of IT, the popularity of open source technologies or the emergence of mobile devices have opened new avenues for products to get into the enterprise.

When thinking about selling to enterprises, there are two main models that will dictate the core of your strategy.

  • Top-Down Sales: Some products get sold directly to a decision maker like a Chief Information Officer(CIO) or Chief Marketing Officer(CMO).
  • Bottom-Up Sales: As an alternative to the top-down sales model, some technologies have the capability of getting adopted within enterprises by non-decision-makers such as developers or information workers before they make all the way to a decision maker.

While the top-down approach have been the cornerstone of enterprise software sales for decades, bottom-up models are a result of the new movements such as the consumerizaiton or IT or the democratization of software. As any new and evolutionary model, it’s very tempting for startups to try to embrace a bottom-up sales model. However, it’s important to realize that both models have very well defined strengths and weaknesses and, more importantly, they have a profound impact in the structure of your sales organization.

Top-Down Sales

This model is great for generating revenue from every single customer. Additionally, a top-down sales model is essential to land large deals that need that become strategic to your customer.

The top-down sales approach typically comes at the cost of longer sales cycles that require a well-established sales force. Additionally, achieving relevant market share with this model is extremely resource intensive as your sales force needs to be involved in every deal.

Bottom-Up Sales

The bottom-up model is great for achieving volume and spread your footprint within a wide customer base. This model does not typically require a large sales force and guarantees that your sales executives only get involved with a prospect after they have evaluated the product and are truly interested.

While achieving customer volume is great, the bottom-up sales model does not necessary conduct to revenue and might put you in a situation of supporting thousands of non-paying customers. The tech startup scene is full with stories of companies that were able to attract a massive number of non-paying customers before going out of business. More importantly, embracing a bottom-up approach requires a level of scalability that can become resource intensive for any startup.

Top-Down Does Not Mean Free

When embracing a bottom-up sales model, it’s important to realize that the model doesn’t necessarily require to offer a free entry point to the product (fermium). While fermium models makes a lot of sense as a top-down approach, there are plenty of scenarios on which enterprise software startups can charge a small nominal fee as a starting point.

Deciding whether to adopt a top-down or bottom-up sales model is essential to structure your sales organizations and customer acquisition processes. For some products, top-down and bottom-up approaches are mutually exclusive. However, technologies like Box, AWS, MongoDB have proven that you can effectively developed both sales models achieving large market share while also acquitting paying customers.

 
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Posted by on December 23, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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I am Back! And We Just Raised $5 Million Dollars

KIDOZEN-LOGO-NEGATIVE_2After a hectic couple of months, I am finally able to sit down and share some exciting news with you guys. The last 2 months have been incredibly intense for me to the point of affecting my regular writing on this blog. However, I do have a good excuse. If you haven’t read the news, I am super happy to announce that KidoZen just completed a $5M Series A led by Third Point Ventures!

Since the Wall Street Journal broke the news two weeks ago, I have been having different conversations with different folks from different backgrounds: VCs, journalists, entrepreneurs, partners, etc, explaining our reasoning and experience during the process. Based on those conversations, I thought it might be a good idea to share some of those insights with you guys. In that sense, I summarized some of the not-so-obvious lessons that I either learned or validated during the process.

While I work with various VC groups as a tech advisor, this is the first time I have raised institutional capital. In that regard, you might find some of my perspectives useful if you thinking on starting the process of raising VC money for your company. For the purpose of this blog post, I am going to keep the explanations short and simple. We can expand into the details in subsequent blog posts.

If you can, only raise capital when you are ready

From a financial standpoint, KidoZen didn’t need to raise capital. We have a large number of paying customer and revenue numbers on the mid seven figures. We decided to raise capital because we felt the company is at an inflection point from the growth perspective and we have a very aggressive roadmap in order to continuing acquiring meaningful market share. That position gave us a lot of leverage during the process in order to bring on-board the right partner under the right terms.

You are always raising

Officially, we met with different VC groups the last week of September and received the funds the week before Thanksgiving. While you might think that was a very rapid process, the fact of the matter is that we have been having unofficial conversations with different VCs for the good part of the year trying to identify the right partners for a company like KidoZen.

As a CEO, I am of the idea that you are always raising capital. Whether you are officially raising or having informal conversations, it’s your job to keep potential investors interested and up to date about your company and progress. If you only go on a fundraising exercise when you need it, you will put yourself and your company under unnecessary amounts of pressure that might result in an unfavorable deal.

Keep the team focused (or don’t tell them anything)

When we started our official fundraising process, the KidoZen executive team made the decision of not sharing the news with the entire company. While that might look contrary to the principles of transparency we constantly predicate, we decided it was very important for the team to remain focus on the product, customer and partner acquisition and not add any additional distractions.

Raising capital is a very stressful process. As a CEO, you need to decide whether you want to share that pressure with your team or put that burden upon yourself and keep the team focused on execution. There is no right answer, it all depends on your current state and culture of your company.

In our case, we decided that sharing that level of pressure and uncertainty with the entire company was going to become an unnecessary distraction. At the same token, we made the commitment to share the news with the team as soon as we knew the outcome regardless of whether we were successful or not.

Be honest, all the f… time

I can’t stress enough the importance of this. If you are truly partnering with your investors to build a great company, you need to be completely transparent with them. We see our investors as part of the team and not as an external entity. If your investors really believe in your company and are really interested on investing, they will roll up their sleeves and help you address any problems that are an impediment for the fundraising process.

Make sure your company is organizationally ready for institutional investors

Complementing the previous point, If you are thinking about raising institutional capital, I would suggest you take a serious look at your company and make sure it can undergo the detailed due diligence process which is typical is series A-B-…Z. in our case, I completely underestimated our readiness as a company and encountered numerous challenges throughout the Series A process. Thankfully, our investors, legal counsel, finance group were incredibly efficient fixing any unexpected issues and brought the process to a successful closure. At the end, I think that exercise made KidoZen a stronger and certainly more operationally organized company.

Trust your investor

Either you see your investors as true partners and part of your company or as a glorified ATM. If the former, is your duty to be completely honest with them, trust their judgment and accept the occasional criticism in order to make your company better. If you don’t like to be challenged on your decisions or have a problem when people disagree with you, I would suggest you explore other avenues to raise institutional capital. Dealing with VCs is too painful to do it just for the money.

Get help, don’t do it alone

Another one of my mistakes. I really thought that I could handle most of the fundraising process by myself with the help of our legal counsel and finance team without the need of additional help. What that ended up being mostly true, the process was as painful as short. Raising institutional capital can be incredibly stressful and not having anyone to share your challenges and frustrations with makes it even worse.

In my case, there were a couple of times on which I felt completely exhausted about the whole process. At the same time, I didn’t want to communicate that state of mind to the team because I felt it was very unfair to them. To this day, I can’t thank enough my dear friend (and new KidoZen board member ;) ) Jason Port for his support and help during this process.

I know a lot has been written about the process of raising institutional capital. I hope some of this ideas resonate with you as I was positioning them from my own experience. I will share more details in a future post.

 
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Posted by on December 13, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Oracle Partners with Microsoft, Salesforce.com and NetSuite but Still Looks Ugly.

After reporting disappointing numbers last week, Oracle’s Larry Ellison pre-announced a series of important and exciting partnerships with different cloud providers and hinted the names of Microsoft, Salesforce.com and NetSuite. As promised, this week Oracle announced three different partnerships with the aforementioned cloud providers. While this is, undoubtedly, a very interesting move on the Oracle side, I find hard to believe is will make a difference in their current position in the cloud market. Despite these partnerships, Oracle still looks very boring in the cloud!

The Microsoft Deal

The essence of these partnership, Oracle will certify and support Oracle software — including Java, Oracle Database and Oracle WebLogic Server — on Windows Server Hyper-V and in Windows Azure. Microsoft will also offer Java, Oracle Database and Oracle WebLogic Server to Windows Azure customers, and Oracle will make Oracle Linux available to Windows Azure customers.

My thoughts?

From a Windows Azure perspective I find hard to believe this deal will make any difference on WebLogic or Windows Azure situation. While Windows Azure has supported Java for a long time, the uptake hasn’t been great within the enterprise customer community. Windows Azure has been more appealing to traditional Microsoft shops while developers building Weblogic applications are not necessarily crazy about the cloud.

More importantly, this deal doesn’t help Weblogic to stop the migration of developers to competitive platforms

The Salesforce.com Deal

As part of this partnership, Salesforce.com plans to standardize on the Oracle Linux operating system, Exadata engineered systems, the Oracle Database, and Java Middleware Platform. Oracle plans to integrate salesforce.com with Oracle’s Fusion HCM and Financial Cloud, and provide the core technology to power Salesforce.com’s applications and platform. Salesforce.com will also implement Oracle’s Fusion HCM and Financial cloud applications throughout the company.

My thoughts?

Very important deal for Oracle! However, this feels like Salesforce.com helping out Oracle more than anything else. In terms of the impact, it’s very hard to tell. Salesforce.com already runs on Oracle software and it’s difficult to imagine impactful the integration between the two SaaS platforms will be. Most enterprises require high level of customizations in order to implement these integrations.

The NetSuite Deal

Under the partnership, announced Wednesday, NetSuite will integrate its enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, which companies uses to manage various parts of their day-to-day business, with Oracle’s human resources (HCM) apps.

My thoughts?

NetSuite customer base is mostly composed for premium-medium size business. I am not really certain how popular HCM would be within that community that are not the typical Oracle buyer.

 

While all three deals represent a major change from Oracle’s traditional “take no prisoners” approach, it’s really hard to see any of these strategic alliances moving the needle for Oracle’s position in the cloud space. Regardless, it’s very good to see these level of collaboration between traditional rivals. Time will tell….

 
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Posted by on June 28, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Enabling the Mobile-First Enterprise

I have been traveling for the last 12 days between visiting customers and speaking and conferences and that have prevented me from blogging as regularly as I would like to. Thankfully, I will be heading home tonight :)

However, there is a new article I would like to share with you guys and get your feedback. This Monday ReadWrite published an article of mine about the “Mobile-First Enterprise” which is a topic I spend a lot of time thinking about it. Essentially, the thesis of the article is that we are witnessing a movement in the enterprise that goes beyond the implementation of mobile apps and instead is re-engineering entire business processes with mobility as the first class citizen. The article attempts to formalize some of the principles of that movement.

Uou can find the article at http://readwrite.com/2013/06/17/enabling-the-mobile-first-enterprise#awesm=~o9j5DAF4kj6dH0

It’s a very easy and short read. I hope you enjoy it and send me some feedback

 
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Posted by on June 20, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Enterprise Software Lessons: The Importance of Building on Disruptive Platforms

I have been learning a lot about Bitcoin recently and I am excited about the possibilities that opens up to provide an anonymous currency to the internet. Apparently, I am not the only one excited about it. Lately, we’ve seen an explosion of startups trying to build technologies around Bitcoin. This fast growing ecosystem is an example of startups building on a foundational platform, in this case Bitcoin.

For any startup, there are very quantifiable advantages of building products on disruptive platforms but these benefits are even more obvious in the enterprise where technology disruption happens at a slower pace. For enterprise software startups, customer acquisition and awareness are well known challenges that end up consuming a lot of time and resources. Disruptive foundational technologies such as the IPhone or AWS can provide very interesting side effects for enterprise software startups to help them overcome some of those early-stage challenges. Below are some of my favorites:

  • Indirect customer acquisition: Once an enterprise decides to embrace a disruptive technology such as the IPhone or AWS they will be one step closer to needing your complementary product or solution.
  • Customer Network Effects: Being part of a selective group of technologies needed to implement a foundational platform in the enterprise will put your company on the radar of any enterprise looking to implement those type of solutions.
  • Indirect Marketing: The marketing developed around the foundational platform will bring more visibility to your enterprise software product.
  • Product Evolution: As the underlying foundational platform evolves, adds more features, etc you will have additional avenues to leverage those new capabilities as part of your enterprise software product.
  • Being part of a bigger ecosystem: To complete the cycle, being part of the ecosystem around a foundational platform or technology, will allow your enterprise software product to indirectly benefit from the efforts.

Obviously, not all enterprise software startups have the option of building on a disruptive platform neither is this a requirement to succeed. Quite the contrary, the startups that can capitalize building on a disruptive platform or technology movement are a very small percentage of the general enterprise software ecosystem. However, there are no doubts of the indirect benefits and network effects that a disruptive platform can bring to your enterprise software startup.

 
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Posted by on May 30, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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No Talent, No Problem: Become a Big Company Bureaucrat

Everyone working or doing business with large enterprises at some point have run against the frustrating bureaucracy reigning in those environments. This type of bureaucracy is an inherent aspect of big organizations but I’ve also been surprised of encountering a few startups launched by people with big company background which amazingly presents the same frustrating levels of bureaucracy.

Seeing that phenomenon has made me realize how much bureaucracy is not only a product or big company environments but also a consequence of hiring people with “bureaucratic DNA” ;)   At the end of the day, a lot of times bureaucracy is a mechanism created by people with no real talent in order to survive in a company environment.

How to spot a big company bureaucrat?

If you are working in a big company you already know who those guys are. If not, just look around for some of the following characteristics:

  • They want control but have no idea what to do with it: Bureaucrats demand and fight for control all the time because it makes them feel important. However, when granted control over a specific situation, they have no idea how to make effective decisions.
  • They have no real talent: You wonder who these people bribed to get to their position ;) Big company bureaucrats bring little or no marketable talent and instrument complex processes to hide that fact in the eyes of their colleagues.
  • They manage by fear: When in management positions, big company bureaucrats constantly inspire fear to their subordinates. This is just about the only way they know how to manage a team because fear is the only thing that makes them feel in control.
  • They can’t make a decision without calling a meeting: Making decisions entails taking risks and big company bureaucrats are adverse to risks; so what do they do? They call meetings to make other people responsible for the decision.
  • They call meetings for everything: Big company bureaucrats not only call meetings to get consensus about decisions but they call meetings for everything. Meetings makes bureaucrats appear busy in the eyes of their colleagues and, at the end, they have nothing better to do.
  • Everything is a crisis: Big company bureaucrats feel comfortable in crisis environments because they don’t know how to discriminate real important decisions from average ones. Besides, crisis offers bureaucrats the feeling of being in control that they so desperately need.

What do you think? Do you live surrounded by big company bureaucrats?

 
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Posted by on March 26, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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