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Miami Gets Hot with the eMerge Americas Conference

emerge2This week I had the opportunity of delivering a session at the eMerge Americas Conference in Miami Beach. This time, my session wasn’t focused on technical or market analysis topic. Instead, I joined Michael McCord (CEO of Learner Nation) to speak to the audience about the experience of building companies in South Florida and other interesting topics related to the emergent tech startup scene in Miami.

The session at the eMerge Americas Conference was a very important moment for myself and the KidoZen team. Two years ago, my good friend, the legendary founder to Terremark and now Medina Capital Many Medina told me about this crazy idea of organizing a conference that will put the Miami and Latin-American startup scene on the map. Since then, I’ve seen the Medina Capital team and other folks work tirelessly to build what became the eMerge America Conference. The forum brought together a diverse group of personalities from tech visionaries such as Paul Maritz to celebrities like PitBull.  I am certainly very proud that the KidoZen team had the opportunity to contribute to this conference and can’t wait to get involved in the next edition.

In terms of my session, Michael and I explored different topics related to the dynamics, challenges and opportunities of building companies in South Florida. Our moderator did a phenomenal job focusing the discussion on aspects such as access to talent, raising capital, the relationship with Latin-America or comparisons with other startup hubs which are, not only relevant, but also incredibly unique to the Miami startup scene. Even though is always a nice feeling to have a packed room for your session ;). This time was incredibly gratifying to see how engaged and knowledgeable the audience was about the topics we were discussing. These are exciting times for the MIA tech scene.

Here is a picture taken during our session courtesy of my good friend Adriana Cisneros

emerge

 
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Posted by on May 8, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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How to Run a Board Meeting: The Slide Deck

A few weeks ago, I blogged about my first board meeting as a CEO of a venture backed company. The response to the blog post was great and I received a few emails asking me to share more details. In that sense, I decided to put together a template of the slide deck I am using during board meetings.

The purpose of the board package slide deck is to provide a clear summary of the current state of the company including the major milestones achieved and challenges faced since the previous board meeting. CEOs should use the slide deck as the main vehicle to drive the discussions during the board meeting and it should be structured in a way that prevents unnecessary discussions that might derail from the main goals of the board meeting. In order to present the current state of the company, CEOs should give clear metrics about the main areas of the business: finances, sales, business development, product, team, marketing, etc.

While preparing for my first board meeting, I looked at different recommendations to structure the slide deck but, at the end, decided to create a specific structure that work for our investors. Even the slide deck template before might result as a good reference, I suggest you do the same and try to find the flow and structure that works for your company.

I hope this helps. Let me know your feedback.

 
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Posted by on March 20, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Back To Work: About New Year’s Resolutions

nyeThe entire KidoZen team is back at work this week and I never seen this level of excitement. Obviously, we ended the year with a very good momentum and have super ambitious and really exciting plans for 2014. Like most people, I spent part of my holiday break reflecting about 2013 and setting the goals and plans for 2014.

During that time, I was super happy to discover that I hit over 85% of my 2013 goals, had some pleasant successes in areas I didn’t  plan for and I still manage to do a decent  job on the resolutions I didn’t accomplish. While 85% might not seem particularly impressive, my satisfaction comes from knowing that my 2013 goals were super ambitious. At the end, I believe that’s the only way to set goals.

From New Year resolutions to our monthly/weekly plans at KidoZen, I like to evaluate goals based on the following rule:

  • Accomplishing Over 90% of the Goals: Probably our goals are not ambitious enough
  • Accomplishing Between 75% to 90% of the Goals: We are doing well, let’s keep pushing to get close to 90%
  • Accomplishing Under 75% of the Goals: We are doing something wrong, time to reassess.

As always, the key to accomplish goals is to stay really focused, iterate and adapt.

In terms of my New Years Resolution, I have some super ambitious goals both personally, for my family and I can’t not even tell you about some of the crazy goals we are trying to accomplish with KidoZen. It should be fun ;)

 
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Posted by on January 6, 2014 in entrepreneurship, leadership, startups

 

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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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Some Thoughts About Strategic Alliances

In the last few weeks we have been announcing a series of strategic alliances around our KidoZen platform. While watching the press releases I was reflecting upon the great job our team is doing finding, structuring and nurturing the right types of partnerships. This process has been a learning experience for us given that, as any new startup, we had to go through the process of figuring out which models of strategic alliances were effective for us and our partners.

Establishing effective strategic alliances is one of the hardest things on the early days of any startup. Identifying the right partners, make your technology visible to them, building and getting in motion the right partnership dynamics are some of the fundamental elements that need to be master as part of your early business development effort.

Based on our experience, there are a few lessons learned that I think might be helpful when structuring strategic alliances in startups.

Don’t Focus on the Big Guys

When thinking about strategic alliances, a lot of startups make the classic mistake to focus on the biggest players on a specific category. As tempting as partnering with a big company might be, you need to be aware of the level of effort and resources that might be required to establish those types of agreements and get the right level of attention from your potential big partner.

Instead of focusing on the big guys, we have found very effective to find the medium, boutique players on a specific category that are truly innovating in the space and devote the right resources and focus to the strategic alliance.

Have a plan to execute after the agreement is signed

A lot of business development folks think about strategic alliances mostly from the marketing perspective. Big announcements, solid press release but no real plan of how to execute after the agreement is signed. As a startup, you should spend the right time focusing on putting the dynamics in place to make the partnership effective and deliver real value to your company and your partner.

Honor the Partnership

Partnerships are only effective is both parties can benefit from it. As a startup, it’s natural to focus most of your attention on driving value to your organization but you should also put the right level of effort to honor your partnership agreement and make your partner successful even if it require sacrifices on your side.

You are Always Looking for Partners

Signing solid strategic alliance is a constant marathon, not a sprint. If you are a CEO or head of business development of a startup, you are always looking and reaching out to potential partners even if you are not equipped to get any agreements in place at the time. Building strong relationships, keeping partners up to date about your progress and vision will do wonders for your company when comes time to build solid strategic alliances.

 
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Posted by on September 27, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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4 Key Characteristics Of A Great CTO

These days I am helping a couple of startups with their technical recruiting processes and organizing their engineering groups. One of the things that I find interesting is how much non-technical founders emphasize on hiring experienced people. While I consider experience a very important factor in a great tech executive, I don’t believe experience alone can help you build a great technical team.

A few years ago, when I was still a computer science student, I had a very interesting conversation with a very wise professor about this topic. At the time, I was evaluating offers for engineering leader at several large organizations but was second-guessing myself due to my lack of experience in the industry. During our conversation, my friend enumerated some of the factors that are required in great technical leaders:

  • Knowledge: Being extremely, and I mean extremely, knowledgeable about the technology market, ecosystem, new trends etc is key to lead a great engineering team. Experience alone certain doesn’t give you knowledge.
  • Experience: Having “been there, done that” definitely helps to recognize the patterns, techniques and processes that can be effective in specific situations.
  • Perspective: From my viewpoint, this is the most important quality of look in a tech leader and the hardest one to explain. Perspective uses knowledge to overcome the lack of experience and make effective decisions. The thing about perspective is that is almost impossible to teach, you either have it and nurture it or you don’t
  • Analytical and Organized Thinking: Finally, engineering leaders need to be able to look at problems from a very analytical perspective and organize engineering processes in models that can be effective. These challenges require very strong, organized and analytical thought process which is very hard to fund in most people.

I know these are not the only characteristics of a great engineering leader but I consider them the most important. Other aspects such as the ability to listen, team player etc are also necessary but can be coached and learned over time.

I hope that helps. What do you think? What makes a great engineering leader?

 

 
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Posted by on September 6, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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The Importance of Spending Time Together with your Team

I am working from Buenos Aires this week as part of a very intense week of product planning for our KidoZen platform. Spending time with the new team, has reaffirmed my believes about the importance of face-to-face communication.

In previous years, I didn’t devoted enough time to visit our team overseas and, instead, invested a lot of energy on implementing the right communication infrastructure to mitigate the challenges of not having the majority of the team in the same office space. While the results were great from a productivity standpoint, it became obvious that the team was missing that chemistry that builds-up when you meet people in person and share a glass of wine while discussing the company vision. Sadly, that lack of chemistry remains hidden most of the time but always surfaces when the team faces difficult decisions that can test the core of your team values. I learned that one the hard way.

With KidoZen, I made the promise of changing those dynamics and our team member in the USA and Argentina are regularly spending time together working on different product planning and strategy sessions.

What a difference that has made!

I am firm believer in distributed teams and the globalization of talent. As a company, KidoZen likes to hire the best talent regardless of the geographic location. The advances on communication technologies, the cultural evolution of most societies have lowered racial, language and religious barriers making it exponentially simpler for organizations to build distributed teams. However, there are still very tangible benefits of co-located teams.

  • Showing that you care: Getting on a plane to go visit a team member signals to everyone how much you care for the team.
  • Learning what motivates your team: Spending time with your team will help you learn their passions, motivations and goals in life which are important drivers when you are building your future together.
  • Observing how people work and analyze problems: You will get to observe your team working dynamics, how they approach problems, strengths, weaknesses, etc.
  • Building trust: In-person communication builds trust. People can look into your eyes and determine if your message is honest and strong enough to resist the difficult times.
  • Reinforce your vision: Spending time together with your team will give you a great opportunity to reinforce the company vision, goals and make your team aware of their importance in the execution of that vision.
  • Building friendships: Some of the relationships you build with your colleagues will have the opportunity to evolve into friendships. While is not always a good idea to mix friendships and work, I never run away from cultivating great friendships with amazing people. Quite the contrary, I feel blessed for having the opportunity to spend time with some many spectacular folks.

I hope some of the items above make sense. I would love to hear your thoughts about the importance of face-to-face communication in a startup. I believe that, as a CEO, is your job to put that burden upon yourself and fly everywhere to spend time with your team. I am certainly enjoying my time in Buenos Aires. I will leave you with a photo of a team dinner a few nights ago:

KidoDinner

 
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Posted by on August 23, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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